11202015_TshOxenrider_WalkAmongUs

This is the first time in several years that I’m actually looking forward to the Christmas season. I know that’s not terribly “Christian” of me to say, but hear me out.

Two years ago, for whatever reason, I officially became burned-out on the cultural overwhelm demanded of us during the season. Be it through well-meaning blog posts, outside obligations on our calendar, or the stores bombarding me with more, more, more — I was tapped. Done. I needed a break.

Last year, our family traveled, and even though we paused to recognize both Thanksgiving and Christmas, they were kept ridiculously simple. We had no extended family pressures, no cultural surroundings that took decor and kitschy music to eleven, or even extra room in our backpacks for more than a few small gifts. Last year’s togetherness was a balm to my soul, so weary was I from our typical, westernized approach to the season.

So now, after a brief hiatus, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get back to it.

I’m truly thankful for our holiday heritage as followers of Christ. So this year, my deliberate, intentional recognition of Advent — as a real, bonafide season in the Christian calendar — will hopefully create an ever-growing stream of celebration, one drip, drip, drip of water at a time, until the overflowing river of Christmas celebration come December 25.

Advent Wreath
Photo source

I like Rachel Telander’s thought on Advent in Let Us Keep the Feast:

“Advent is one of the hardest seasons of the church year to celebrate in today’s culture. As soon as Thanksgiving arrives, we are bombarded by Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas everything. We are so saturated by Christmas that we often skip over one of the most important parts: the preparation. You wouldn’t throw a party without preparing the food and drinks; you wouldn’t visit a friend without getting ready. We are about to remember the most awe-inspiring thing that happened in the whole of history: God becoming man in the glory and mystery of the incarnation. We need to set aside time to prepare ourselves for this — internally and externally.”

Advent is a gift to us in the modern hectic world. Here’s why:

For one, we better remember what it was like to wait for the Messiah. Two thousand-plus years after Jesus’ earthly existence, it’s hard for us to imagine life not knowing when the God of the universe was going to finally send forth the Messiah people had been waiting for for centuries.

Pausing just a bit before the full-on celebration we anticipate on December 25 tempers our hearts as we remember that Jesus divinely entered humanity at a specific time in history. It sobers us in our own humanity.

I like what Haley Stewart says: “It is the opportunity to set your life by a different watch, by holy time.”

Simple Christmas Greenery
photo source

Advent also keeps the season of Christmas preparation on Jesus. So many people bemoan the secularization of the Christmas season, but recognizing Advent is such a simple way to go against that flow.

Whether we prepare our hearts through a Jesse tree, Advent wreath, or a simple evening devotional, drawing out the season of preparation can’t help but reorient our focus from all the gift-buying-cookie-baking-party-attending flurry towards the original, ancient reason for the upcoming holy-day.

Finally, and perhaps my favorite reason — it makes Christmas even merrier! We’re not recognizing Advent because we don’t like Christmas — we’re doing it because we love Christmas.

Keeping the season before December 25 about our heart’s preparation means that when the day comes for recognizing God Incarnate, the true Immanuel, it will be bonafide feast!

Let the sweet things fill our tables and let us be merry and glad, for God sent His Son to walk among us and bring forth the new era: when the curtain was torn and we became fully free from our sin. A true reason to celebrate!

I recently shared some ways our family will keep a simple Advent this year, including useful resources, books, and music to orient our hearts on the birth of the Messiah. Perhaps they’ll be a blessing to you as well?

Christmas Garland in Tree
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We Americans have Thanksgiving on the horizon, and soon, the onslaught of Christmas will go full throttle. As you buy your gifts and prepare your home, don’t forget to prepare your hearts as well. Advent means arrival. The Son of God will arrive here on earth — He already did arrive on earth — and that, my friends, is a true reason to make merry.

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  • Keri Siegel

    Thank you for sharing. I, actually, knew next to nothing about Advent until I read this post. Being raised in 2 Southern Baptist parochial schools, I was taught as a kid that Advent was strictly a “Catholic ” tradition, that it had no value for us. Now, I see that Advent wasn’t man’s idea, but God’s idea. In reflecting on what was written here, it made me think of the birth of John the Baptist. He was the fore-runner to Jesus, sent to prepare the way for Christ. In their day, NEITHER birth got much fanfare. Today, only Jesus’ birth gets fanfare. While I understand and agree with that line of thinking, we still need to prepare ourselves appropriately to celebrate Christ’s birth. John the Baptist’s ministry was all about repentance, therefore to truly celebrate Christmas appropriately, we should celebrate Advent and make it a time to focus on repentance in preparation for the Christmas celebrations. That’s the message I’m receiving here, and it’s one that needs to be told. Thanks again for sharing. Be blessed.

    • http://theartofsimple.net/ Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh man, Keri, I really needed your words here. I love that you’ve brought up John the Baptist, and his ministry of calling to repentance. That’s a huge part of Advent. Thank you for this perspective and wisdom.

  • Lovelle

    Girl you are so right, the holidays are so stressful. I am learning that it’s important to set boundaries and keep it simple, although its hard when the world is bombarding us with ways to make things complicated. Thanks for your reminder. I needed it since the holidays are literally around the corner.

    • http://theartofsimple.net/ Tsh Oxenreider

      Any day now, right? You’re so welcome.

  • Joanne Peterson

    Hi Tsh,
    I grew up Catholic, and even though I am not Catholic anymore, I still like the Advent season. I’ve become overwhelmed too, and need simplicity. I like your ideas, and will talk to my husband how we can actually celebrate the season of Advent, and focus on the coming of Jesus, and thy why He came. This will be a good way to focus our kids attention on Jesus. We don’t do Santa, and I know it gets mentioned a lot at school. We’ve told our children Santa is fun to pretend, but this is for remembering Jesus and celebrating His birthday. These are some really good ideas to draw their attention to Jesus, and mine too and be intentional to focus on Jesus.

    Blessings,
    Joanne

  • http://michelemorin.wordpress.com Michele Morin

    Yes, heart preparation. That’s how I used to explain Advent to our boys when they were small: getting our hearts ready for Christmas, just as we decorate our house to get it ready for Christmas. Advent celebration has formed our families’ December for over 20 years now, and no matter how “done” I feel when the calendar rolls around to the end of November, I find a spark of celebration return when we light that first purple candle.
    Blessings to you!

  • Rebecca Jones

    “It is the opportunity to set your life by a different watch, by holy time.” I love this Haley Stuart quote. I studied a little about the Hebrew calendar. God’s time is different to ours, in fact, He exists in eternity. There’s nothing wrong with preparations or celebrations, we should redeem our time like the Bible says, we need to make the most of it, before He comes to gather the bride.

    • http://theartofsimple.net/ Tsh Oxenreider

      Indeed! Good perspective.

  • Susan

    Being raised and living out my faith in a liturgical tradition (Lutheran) I feel blessed because I have always known the beauty of Advent, followed by Christmas for 12 days, etc. Do all families in the congregation carry it through the home, sadly not. But we do our very best as Sunday School teachers to teach it, and encourage families. Our tree is up until January 6th, the Day of Epiphany. The wise men used to travel around the house when my children were home. Now they travel at my grandson’s house. Baby Jesus is in his manger after Christmas eve service. So, no Advent was not just a Catholic thing.

  • Joanne Peterson

    Tsh, thank you for the great ideas! Since I have Dutch as part of my family heritage, (I’m heinz 57) we already celebrate St. Nicholas Day, but I like the idea of remembering what this man did, and his importance with the Nicene council. The early church hammered out what we believe long before we came along. It’s worth remembering too, along with his care of those who had no voice and were poor. Blessed, and happy Advent season to you and your family! Joanne

  • http://www.pensieve.me/ Robin Dance

    Tsh, here’s one interesting thing about blogging–it stirs thoughts you might not have had, which results in actions. What I mean is, over the past 10 years of blogging, I’ve read a lot of ideas, ideas which I probably hadn’t considered prior. Pre-2005, you had fewer messages being slung at you–whatever you heard from church, maybe newspaper articles (and ads), and all the stuff retail venues offered in-store. My point is, in terms of advent, I only knew what I knew from a those basic outlets. I didn’t know what I was missing, or that I was missing anything! It was simpler in so many ways, but I realize where my kids are concerned, I probably would have done things differently. We’ve never been big gift-givers and tried to focus on the “reason for the season,” but what we did do lacked preparation and anticipation. Anyway, your reminders are good and your examples are tangible helps.

    • http://theartofsimple.net/ Tsh Oxenreider

      I feel the same way! I’ve learned so much through what people share in the online space, which includes Advent for me. It can get overwhelming, but I think, after 5+ years of recognizing Advent, I’m *finally* starting to feel like it’s not one more thing to add to the to-do list. :)

  • Beth Williams

    Tsh,
    I have “hated” the cultural Christmas season for years! It seems to me that right after Halloween within 2 weeks everyone talks about Christmas. Stores have trees up and Christmas movies, songs, etc. And all you hear on TV is buy buy buy Black Friday, cyber Monday! It seems that Thanksgiving is completely forgotten and the TRUE Meaning of Christmas is lost also!
    That’s why I love the song by Go Fish “It’s called Christmas with a Capital C”! It talks about the world saying Happy Holidays and the customer saying thanks happy but because it’s called Christmas with a Capital C. If I offend you put a helmet on!!!
    Blessings:)

  • Beth Williams

    Tsh,
    I have “hated” the cultural Christmas season for years! It seems to me that right after Halloween within 2 weeks everyone talks about Christmas. Stores have trees up and Christmas movies, songs, etc. And all you hear on TV is buy buy buy Black Friday, cyber Monday! It seems that Thanksgiving is completely forgotten and the TRUE Meaning of Christmas is lost also!
    That’s why I love the song by Go Fish “It’s called Christmas with a Capital C”!
    It talks about the world saying Happy Holidays and the customer saying thanks happy but because it’s called Christmas with a Capital C. If I offend you put a helmet on!!!
    Blessings:)

  • http://fylliska.blogspot.com/ Phyllis

    Oh! I’m so happy that incourage is available to us outside the USA again! I don’t know what changed, or who did that (or when? maybe it was a while ago, and I just missed it?), but thank you!

    And, yes, yes, yes! I love Advent, love Christmas, and love being able to have them at our own pace.

  • http://sunnyand80.org/ Meg Bucher

    Thank you so much for the encouraging post! I break my Christmas decor out rediculously early.,.I blare the old Bing Crosby carols before Thanksgiving…every year it gets earlier and earlier for me. I need Christmas…I need to celebrate the miracle of Christs birth by the end of the year. I take the over commercialism in stride…because it lends more opportunities to spread the news of Jesus. And where would we be without Him? I love the Advent celebration…you’ve inspired me to hone that focus even more this year so that I can properly pass down the excited anticipation of preparing for Christs birth to my children.
    Happy Christmas!
    Megs

  • Emily

    I am Catholic, but it wasn’t until I became and adult that I began to understand Advent. It is more than preparing for Christmas. It is preparing our hearts for the second coming of Christ. It is a focus on repentance (the other penitential season other than Lent) and on making things right. I’m not sure if the Anglican lectionary has 3 cycles, but each year even there is a slightly different focus on the preparation. Last year it was John the Baptist. This year it is preparing, with pure hearts and good deed for the coming of the Lord. I truly love this holiday season. It is challenging, yet comforting. I am also the music director at our parish and I particularly love the Taize songs for this time of year. Very simply and reflective: Wait for the Lord” and “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful.” I’m glad you’re resting in this time of year. :)

    • http://theartofsimple.net/ Tsh Oxenreider

      It does have three cycles! Fun to hear of that similarity with your tradition.

  • Vedawattie Ram

    I love Christmas. I usually give myself a special gift each year. I chose a book on Advent readings or go over the Birth of Christ in the gospels… looking for hidden treasure… something to meditate on, some new thought… for application.
    I involve my family too. Last year we used Ann Voskamp’s ideas of the four candles signifying hope, joy, peace and love. We did the readings, looked at the videos, prayed … and connected. So TSH, reading your article was again re-enforcing the concept of the advent. Thank you so much! You have an unusual name.