Advent at home

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels

Here’s what I want for us, lovies: let’s be gentle with ourselves and others. Let’s take joy where we find it. It’s okay to feel sad and out-of-sorts. This is hard, really hard. Do what you need to do. Listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Have some cookies with that coffee. Put up the tree early, or on December 24th. Please remember: Jesus is coming, is with us now, and will be with us again. We can’t screw that up, no matter what.

If you are looking for some inspiration for the holidays, I am glad to share what I’ve found. Traci Smith’s new book, Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred is brimming over with wonderful, simple ideas, and here’s the best part: you are not supposed to try them all. I promise. Traci suggests choosing three. I’m definitely trying the Hot Chocolate Gratitude Party next weekend, which if my family gets through the college application process intact, we’ll certainly need. We are also looking forward to the Silent Night Star Walk, which might be Christmas Eve or Christmas Night. I am especially thankful for the chapter on Difficult Moments, because even without a worldwide pandemic, these are an inevitable part of our holiday experience, and being able to acknowledge them helps us accept them and honor what they teach us.

You may know from my earlier Advent post that reading one seasonal picture book each night leading up to Christmas Eve is a tradition beloved from Peter’s childhood. Matthew Paul Turner has a new picture book with illustrations by Gillian Gamble, All the Colors of Christmas, with not only the bright familiar red and green, but gold and blue and white and brown–yes, brown: “It’s God within a baby’s skin.” The final color is “…You! It’s your own unique hue.” I love this part best, when Matthew reminds us that through our being and doing, we are “part of the story, the joy and the glory.”

Another sweet picture book is Little Mole’s Christmas Gift, by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sally Garland, a charming companion to the spring-themed Little Mole Finds Hope. This book, without any religious language at all, carries a message of kindness and generosity that speaks to the heart.

My devotional recommendation for adults and youth is Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers by Claire Brown and Michael McRay with daily reflections from a wonderfully diverse (in every sense of the word) group of contributors. Each reflection is accompanied by a scripture verse, a prayer and a practice. One of the prayers seems just right for me, and perhaps for you, in this time.

God of the unfolding story, draw us into friendship with our Divine Discontent as a gift of your Spirit. Give us the strength to keep longing for your Kingdom Come, to keep returning to our communities and our peacemaking in gratitude for your guidance toward the world you imagine for your creation. Amen.

Claire Brown, Keep Watch with Me, p. 95

In the practice that follows this prayer, Claire speaks of “the gap between the present moment and the holy imagination” and invites us to “sit with whatever comes.” That I can do. That I will do. With some carols on in the background and my messy life and apartment in the foreground, holding on to the promise and the reality of God-with-us.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas gift, perhaps this year in particular.

Martin of Tours, Veterans Day and Advent now

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Photo by Ahmed Aqtai on Pexels


Martin of Tours, one of my most favorite saints, was the son of a soldier in the Roman Army of the fourth century. He first attended church at the age of ten, against his parents’ wishes. When Martin was fifteen, he was required to join the army himself and served in Amiens, France. One winter night, he saw a beggar at the city gates, shivering with cold. Martin had no money to give him, but he took off his heavy cloak and sliced it in half with his sword, giving half to the beggar. That night, Jesus came to Martin in a dream, wrapped in half of Martin’s cloak. Martin’s biographer, who knew him personally, wrote that the next day, Martin “flew to be baptized.” Martin decided that he could not be both a soldier and a follower of Jesus. Eventually, he reluctantly became Bishop of Tours.

The piece of cloak that Martin kept was saved and much later, French kings swore oaths on it and carried it into battle. The words chapel and chaplain both come from the from the French word that means “little cloak,” for the little temporary churches that were used to hold the cloak and for the priest who took care of it. Eventually, all priests who served in the military caring for soldiers were called chaplains, and small churches everywhere became known as chapels.

Today he is remembered as the patron of all those who serve in the military, and the day of his death, November 11, is also Veterans Day, when we honor those who have fought for the protection of others.

 In the Middle Ages, Advent began with the Feast of St. Martin and lasted for forty days until Christmas, just like Lent, the season that prepares us for Easter. In Europe, children still make lanterns on St. Martin’s Day as the night comes early to carry his light and the light of Christ into the world.

This year especially, I want to give us permission to begin Advent NOW. My lovely dinner church, St. Lydia’s, observes a seven-week Advent. This doesn’t change the readings we hear on Sundays, or interfere with Thanksgiving or the celebration of the harvest. It simply means that we can begin preparing, in our hearts and in our homes, for the coming of the Christ Child, in any way that makes sense for us. It’s time to live into the richness and mystery of the dark while waiting for the light to grow and spread.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

    we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

    and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then it was said among the nations,

    “The Lord has done great things for them.”

 The Lord has done great things for us,

    and we rejoiced.

 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,

    like the watercourses in the Negeb.

 May those who sow in tears

    reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping,

    bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

    carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, from which this post is adapted. You may enjoy the Advent ideas found here and here.

Advent ideas

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The circle of the church year turns. It’s almost Advent.

In the secular world, this period of preparing for the birth of Christ has been swept up into “the holiday season,” that frantic period of time from just after Halloween (if we’re lucky) until Christmas Eve. In the church, however, we are serious about getting ready over a four-week period. While Christmas may be red, green and gold, the color of Advent is blue (for Mary, the mother of Jesus) or purple (for the newborn king). The mood is quiet, more focused. We are waiting for Jesus, and this is holy time. This slower, more deliberate approach to the season may be worth bringing home. What can you simplify? Where can you be more intentional, less rushed?

You could decorate first with just evergreen boughs, perhaps some pine cones, walnuts or apples nestled among them. Once the tree comes, try enjoying it with white lights alone for a week or two. If you or your kids are feeling crafty, string popcorn and cranberries, or make chains with festive patterned origami paper. Save the special, sparkly ornaments for closer to December 24. Save the most familiar Christmas carols, too, and listen to the delightful and quirky Keepin’ the Baby Awake or Yo Yo Ma’s lovely Songs of Joy and Peace

Some years we have had an Advent wreath of boxwood and juniper and holly for the center of the table.  This year the most I will do is gather four votive candles and one pillar candle–you can, too. Use any colors you like, and set them on a platter. Advent devotions to use with the wreath can be quite simple; these are offered by Helen Barron at Candle Press.

We are preparing not just for Christmas, but for the coming of Christ. How do we ready our hearts as well as our homes? What can we do to make giving the focus rather than getting? Who might be feeling lonely and left out at this time of year, or just overworked and under-appreciated? Take hot chocolate to the crossing guard, make cookies for the firefighters or the postal carrier, spend time with an elderly neighbor or visit the local nursing home. The internet abounds with simple ideas along these lines; Action for Happiness has created a kindness calendar for each day of December.

Advent calendars are a fun way of counting down the days until Christmas. Here’s a mason jar Advent calendar from the creative people at The Salt Project, if you haven’t already purchased one.  This year, I am participating in Advent Word, a global online Advent calendar, for which a daily prompt for a photograph and personal reflection are given. I also recommend following the adventurous Wandering Wisemen on Instagram or Facebook  from November 29 to January 6.

Sybil MacBeth wrote a book chock-full of engaging ideas for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany called The Season of the Nativity, and she’s also the creator of a favorite prayer practice of mine, Praying in Color. She has several templates for a prayerful, colorful Advent calendar that are great for kids, teens and adults.

When my son Peter was small, we read a different Christmas book or chapters of a wintery book each night leading up to Christmas Eve, when he’d receive a new one. Some parents more organized than I ever was wrap these books from the family’s or the library’s collection in holiday gift wrap and number them, opening one each night at bedtime.

For younger children, Laura Alary’s book, Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas helps them connect what is happening in church with what is happening at home as we get ready. Its tone is both joyful and calm, in a way that suggests the profound difference between waiting for Jesus and waiting for Santa.

All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss with stunning woodcuts by David G. Klein is an Advent book that’s perfect for older kids and adults. Each chapter opens a window into the mysterious life of a North American animal in winter, and through them we are reminded that “the roots of Advent lie deep beneath the Christian church—in the earth and its seasons.” Another adult great read for Advent is Quinn Caldwell’s smart and thoughtful All I Really Want: Readings For a Modern Christmas.

Advent is a season of wonder. We wait in darkness for the light to be kindled and grow and spread, for the long-expected child to be born, for our hope to be renewed. This year I need it more than ever.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas gift.