Extraordinary Joy for an Ordinary World

Some days just feel so — well — ordinary. Get up, dress, eat, work, clean clothes and dishes, tuck everyone in, sleep, and then do it all over again the next day. Advent worship | Extraordinary Joy for an Ordinary World

I’ve spent much of my adult years whining and upset about the fact that I haven’t yet done anything “extraordinary.” The year I turned 40, I was depressed for six months because I felt that all my “best years” were behind me and I had little to show for it.

Do you ever feel that you’re just “ordinary” — nothing extra special with little to offer? I do.

Here’s the truth of the matter, though. We are “ordinary,” in the sense that we are the created, but the desire — that longing for something bigger and greater than ourselves — is not wrong. The desire for greatness in fact points to a greater reality (it’s the whining and complaining and self-centeredness that’s wrong and for which we must repent).

God in his wisdom and mercy uses the ordinary to do the most extraordinary things! Think about it; that is his primary mode of action today. The Bible talks of all the “ordinary” people he called into his service. He uses men and women to affect change.

So I’m not surprised at all that he chose the most ordinary of ordinary humans to first notify of Jesus’ birth. After all, Jesus himself became so very ordinary — being born as a helpless baby to a young couple in a barn — that I dare say we should expect nothing else.

When I think of shepherds and the way that Jesus came into the world, I’m encouraged. I’m assured that in God’s economy we are all useful, even if we see ourselves, our situations, and our gifts as “ordinary.”

That brings me joy, indeed.

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Advent. You can light the third candle on the Advent wreath and lead the family in a brief time of worship as suggested below. For more ideas for celebrating Advent and Christmas with your kids, check out my new free ebook, A Different Christmas This Year.

ordinary | Advent worship | Christmas traditions | different Christmas this yearThird Sunday of Advent: The Shepherds 

Gather around the Advent wreath. Briefly explain how shepherds were regarded in Jesus’ day: People didn’t like shepherds very much. They thought they were dirty and lowly. They considered their job kind of gross: they were in fields for a long time with smelly sheep. But God chose to reveal Christ’s birth to the shepherds first! He didn’t go to the Kings and Queens or even the church leaders. He chose ordinary people to receive the news.

Why is it significant that God chose to reveal Christ’s birth to the shepherds first? Why should that give us joy?

Advent Sunday #3: Candle of Joy
Read Luke 2:14-17 and light the first and second purple candles and the pink candle: “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15-16 ESV)

Peace in the Midst of Chaos

 

Advent worship | Second Sunday of Advent | Christmas traditionIt’s not even December as I write this, but our holiday season has taken off like a rocket ship launched into outer space. This week alone, we have daily wrestling practice, soccer practice, two wrestling matches, two basketball (cheer) games, cheer practice, dance class, youth group, band practice, all-day band event at school, and a soccer game. That doesn’t even include dental appointments that I had to cancel because who has time for oral hygiene and dental care?

Chaos. How, why are our lives so crazy? How in the world do we even enjoy Christmas?

We did get our decorations up this weekend, which was a fun family activity, plus I have a slew of cheesy Christmas Hallmark movies on the DVR recorded from the free cable on Thanksgiving weekend. Those things do help bring a sense of calming to an otherwise insane week at our house. (Of course, who has time to watch movies? Maybe I’ll get through them before Easter.)

The other thing we aim to do is light our Advent wreath and have a brief time of family worship most nights of the week. I’ve also subscribed to receive a daily Advent prayer from one of my church’s pastors. You can sign up, too, if you like. Click here.

It’s hard to stay on track and out of the insanity this time of year. It is super-hard — not gonna lie. But it is our goal.

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Glad That Christmas Is Over

Christmas is over, and I’m glad.

I hate being that way, but it’s how I feel. Just being honest.

I said this to Chris when we collapsed into bed on Christmas Eve. He got really upset with my comment, saying I needed to try to enjoy it, savor it, and celebrate it.

I was (and am still) just so, so tired.

(If you’ll indulge my whining for a moment, please read on. If you don’t wish to, skip the following paragraph. And, yes, I know some people have far busier lives than I. But for me and my geriatric metabolism, my infantile sleep needs, and my underactive thyroid, stick a fork in me; I am done.)

This Christmas season, I worked about 10-15 hours either away from home or on projects at home every week. I shopped for and wrapped gifts and stocking stuffers for 4 family members, 2 sets of grandparents, 3 nephews, school and Sunday school teachers, the mail carrier and trash men, and a few friends. I designed and ordered Christmas cards (still haven’t addressed and mailed them). I designed and ordered Christmas cards for my mother. I planned, shopped for, and cooked Thanksgiving and Christmas lunches (with help from others). I led two one-hour cheerleading practices and communicated with 9 sets of parents about said practices. I baked frozen taquitos and pizza rolls for our Christmas concert at church and attended said concert. I glued tinsel around 12 little pine cone Christmas trees and took the trees and my little Daisy Scout to the nursing home to sing Christmas carols. I assisted at a first grade Christmas party.  I attended a preschool Christmas program.

And, oh, I managed to (sort of) run my home by cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, helping with homework, and driving people here and there.

(Whining over. You can begin reading again.)

This year, more than those in recent memories, I’ve felt just overwhelmed, overstimulated, and overfed. Because of a really busy work schedule this year in addition to school, church, Girl Scouts, and cheerleading, I’ve not had a lot of extra time to pay attention to what we were eating or getting the best price on gifts or planning ahead or going to bed on time.

I hate the hectic nature of the holidays. Hate. It. To me, it seems to be the antithesis of the true meaning of Christmas. When the things I usually enjoy become more of a chore, I know something is out of whack.

I regret our not having had more of an emphasis on Christ this season. Yes, we had our Advent wreath and readings and our church events, but somehow, it seems that I wanted more.

On Christmas night, I insisted we not forget to light our Advent wreath for a final reading. Our kids had been inundated (and I do mean inundated) by attention and presents all day long. I told Chris, “We are ending this day with Jesus!”

And so we did.

Can we make Christmas 2010 more relaxed and more focused on the things that truly matter? We shall see.

Christmas Is Coming!

Christmas is now just days away. I must reflect a bit on this busy season.

Yesterday, I did a few final errands and picked up the last of my gifts. I braved Target on the Saturday before
Christmas. It was so crowded that all the shopping carts were taken when I got there. I decided that I wouldn’t allow anyone or anything get me angry. I was just going to go with the flow. I did pretty well.

This year, I wasn’t knocked over by suffocating perfume, but I did have to navigate around large groups of shoppers. I think it’s hilarious that Bubba and Betty Lou decide to bring the whole family–Grandma, Bubba Jr. and little Brittany–out to Target for shopping. Then they like to stand in the middle of the aisle and discuss LOUDLY what ideas they have for gifts.

People. It’s the Saturday before Christmas and you are in Target. You should at least know what you’re getting Uncle Ricky.

I’m zipping. Needing to zip. In and out.

Zip. Zip.

Get out of my way.

~~~

I gave myself permission this year to stop believing that:
a. I enjoy baking.
b. I can bake “gifts” for people.

And so, I was relieved of my baking burden and didn’t make anything for anyone. I don’t like baking anyway, but I like the idea of baking (that whole “I want to be that girl who bakes” issue that I have). But this year, I didn’t bake.

~~~

I’ve been working A LOT more this year than in previous years, which has taken quite a toll on my Christmas organization. Much to my disappointment, I’ve had to cancel plans to attend some social gatherings. Thankfully, I’ve not gotten sick-sick (knock on wood), but I have been sleep-deprived and headachey and kind of yuck. I’ve also simply run out of time. I had a bit of a crisis of schedule on Friday night. After a few hours of literally mapping out what needed to be done when, I felt a little better about managing my time. But I have to stick to my schedule in order to get it all done on time.

I really regret that this Christmas season has kind of evaporated. We’ve not been as consistent with Advent family worship as I would have liked. And I hate the moaning and groaning that I’ve done when an invitation has been extended to us: “Another party/event/program? One more place to be!”

~~~

Our garage door opener is stuck. And I just have to say that I love my garage and my automatic garage door opener almost as much as I love my husband and kids. And so, on the coldest/rainiest weekend of our fall/winter season thus far, our garage door decides to stop working. And so, hooray! Who knows how much that will cost?

And, also? The toilet in the guest bath has been having some flushing issues. I think it’s flushing at the moment, but the line may be partially clogged or something. OK. So my mother-in-law is coming tomorrow. I knew she’d need to use the bathroom. Not trusting the reliability of the guest bath, I decided I’d need to prepare the master bath for her use.

So I devoted about two hours a little while to cleaning my bathroom. It had been way too long  a little while since I had mopped my bathroom floor, but I was able to get it freshened up and passable for use. And that was just a fun way to spend my Sunday evening.

~~~

The Girl Scout troop went Christmas caroling tonight at the local nursing home. It was sweet and they seemed to enjoy having us. I am confronted by the effects of the Fall when I see these long-past vibrant folks being spoon-fed and wearing bibs. I was struck tonight by the extreme regression. How interesting is it that in one’s final days he or she must revert to children’s activities (making Christmas crafts)? They had a life-size Santa in the dining room and school-room-like bulletin boards. I don’t know. The juxtaposition of the vibrant children with life ahead against the backdrop of the men and women bound to their chairs, having the best of their days far in the past, was just unsettling. And sad. And it made me long for Heaven.

Celebrating Advent With Your Kids: First Sunday of Advent

A photo of our advent wreath last year, taken on Christmas Day. We have Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus surrounding the wreath with our red Christ candle in the middle.

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent.

I remember as a child having an Advent wreath at home. We’d light the candle(s) each week to mark the time leading up to Christmas.

It’s a tradition I want my kids to know and love.

Last year, I finally bought a small brass Advent wreath/candle holder for us. I had tried for years off and on to make wreathes. But with three small kids, I wanted something that was sturdy and safe. Our small wreath is perfect!

Typically, we gather after dinner and read an appropriate Scripture or Bible passage for the corresponding Sunday. We don’t get too technical or too content-heavy. We use our Nativity scene pieces to explain the Sunday (shepherds, angels, and so on). I’ve noticed my kids really learn and relate when they can see, touch, and/or hold a small object. Chris plays guitar and we always sing two or three Christmas carols.

If you want to observe Advent with your kids this year, doing something simple is perfect.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. Four candles either in a wreath or even four small votives in separate holders will do. If you do want a wreath, buy it now at a Christian bookstore or order online. You can find one for about $20. Several years, I said I’d wait until after Christmas to buy one on sale. They never put them on sale. So, buy it now! Candle colors are usually three purple or blue and one pink. A fifth candle may be added in the center on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (last year we used a small red candle in a jar) to symbolize Christ.

2. Bible and/or a Children’s Bible. We love, love, love The Jesus Storybook Bible.

3. Music. A musician in the family is wonderful or even some CDs featuring beautiful Christmas music is nice.

Sample order of a Family Advent worship time:

  • Light the candle(s). We allow our kids to do this (when age-appropriate).
  • Sing a song.
  • Read the Bible verse/Bible story.
  • Ask the kids questions to engage them in the learning.
  • Sing a song.
  • Take prayer requests.
  • Close in prayer.

A very basic suggested schedule of Advent readings:

First Sunday: the prophets
Candle of Hope
read Micah 5:2 and light the first purple candle

Second Sunday: the angels
Candle of Peace
read Luke 2:8-13 and light the first and second purple candles

Third Sunday: the shepherds
Candle of Joy
read Luke 2:14-17 and light the first and second purple candles and the pink candle

Fourth Sunday: the magi
Candle of Love
read Matthew 2:1-12 and light all the candles

Christmas Eve or Day
the Christ Candle
read John 1:1-5 and light all the candles including the Christ candle

You may find all sorts of variations of this outline online. In fact, I’ll admit that our family’s schedule is an amalgam of things we’ve read and things we believe will stick with our kids. Tailor your Advent Worship time to your own family.

And a final word: Don’t fret if you haven’t “started yet.” You aren’t late! Just pick up with the appropriate Sunday. We usually do a “little something” about the Advent lesson on most nights of the week during a family worship time. We light the candle(s) every night because the kids love it.

If you’ve wanted to start a Family Worship time or you’ve wanted to re-energize the time you’ve observed in the past, Advent is a great season to bring the family together and focus on Christ.

I’d love to hear more about your Advent and Christmas traditions!

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