The 5th Sunday of Advent – For Parents That Missed Christmas

We asked guest blogger, Noel Carlson, to share her thoughts with us again.  We think you’ll enjoy them!

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By Noel Carlson

It is the 5th Sunday of Advent, and although I am sure it is not marked on the traditional church calendar, I’m lighting a candle anyway. Somehow I’ve missed it. I feel like I’ve missed Christmas. With my coffee in hand, I pause for reflection. This stillness is welcomed by my soul.

Sundays in Advent are about preparation for the newborn king. Looking back, I seemed to have prepared but find myself still waiting. The cookies were baked, kids’ concerts attended, and stockings were stuffed, but where is the newborn king?

We sing, let every heart prepare him room. Instead so much of the holiday season here is the expending of energy, time, finances, concerns, and other resources. We expend until we ourselves are completely spent, left with an emptiness inside; a hollow ache that doesn’t seem to quite match the festive splendor found on pinterest or our instagram feeds.

Ann Voskamp talks about Mary conceiving the miracle of Jesus in her book, “The Greatest Gift.” In it, she shares that it wasn’t about Mary being fully perfected, all of her checklists accomplished, every spiritual discipline in place, unblemished and completely whole. She wasn’t completely prepared. She was simply a human who made space for the divine. “Mary–she opens her hands and she nods. And the promises come true in the space of her.”

The same space that can be found in our hollow ache.

This morning, I do the same. In my pause, completely spent. I too open my hands and nod.

Voskamp continues, “Somewhere you make space. And you feel the space become a sanctuary. Sanctity stilling the crush. Glory overshadowing everything else.”

Tonight, our family will celebrate the 5th Sunday of Advent. During our weekly Shabbat, we will break the bread and drink the cup; the flesh and blood brought to us by that newborn king. It is our time as a family to come together and pause and reflect. And we will open our hands and nod our heads, yielding over our empty spaces to him. For isn’t that what he’s wanted all Advent long?

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Beyond my lit candle this morning, our nativity scene catches my eye. I see it’s been rearranged, as it often is by my children. All the members of the creche have formed a circle, surrounding the newborn king. My kids in their rearranging got it right. Those at the nativity weren’t there on display, facing the outward world, posed just so; they made a space and welcomed him in.

Emmanuel, God with us, filling the hollow ache.

Happy 5th Sunday of Advent, fellow parents. May you and your children continue to be filled with him now and throughout the year.

January Preview Pack

Here’s a look ahead to what we’ll be learning in Heroes Gate in the month of January:

January 3: Toddlers through 4th graders will hear how Jesus came to heal the sick, free hearts and souls, and rescue us all (Luke 4:14-22, 31-44). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: What does it mean to be transformed?

January 10: Toddlers through 4th graders will be amazed as they hear about the first miracle Jesus performed (John 2:1-12). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: Am I important to God?

January 17: Toddlers through 4th graders will celebrate with a paralyzed man who is healed after his friends bring him to Jesus (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: How can God transform me?

January 24: Toddlers through 4th graders will learn God provides what we need as they hear how Jesus sent out His disciples (Mark 6:6b-13; Luke 9:1-6). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: How does following Jesus give my life meaning and purpose?

January 31: Toddlers through 4th graders will find everyone is important in God’s Kingdom as they hear the story of some disciples arguing and Jesus’ answer to their question (Matthew 18:1-9; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-50). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: How does God’s peace help me?

 

January Preview Pack

Happy New Year!  Here’s a look ahead to what we’ll be learning in Heroes Gate in the month of January:

January 3: Toddlers through 4th graders will hear how Jesus came to heal the sick, free hearts and souls, and rescue us all (Luke 4:14-22, 31-44). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: What does it mean to be transformed?

January 10: Toddlers through 4th graders will be amazed as they hear about the first miracle Jesus performed (John 2:1-12). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: Am I important to God?

January 17: Toddlers through 4th graders will celebrate with a paralyzed man who is healed after his friends bring him to Jesus (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: How can God transform me?

January 24: Toddlers through 4th graders will learn God provides what we need as they hear how Jesus sent out His disciples (Mark 6:6b-13; Luke 9:1-6). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: How does following Jesus give my life meaning and purpose?

January 31: Toddlers through 4th graders will find everyone is important in God’s Kingdom as they hear the story of some disciples arguing and Jesus’ answer to their question (Matthew 18:1-9; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-50). Club 56 kids will discuss the topic: How does God’s peace help me?

What’s the Big Deal About Jesus’ Birth?

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

With all the holiday hubbub and festivities, cheery music and yummy treats, gift giving and receiving, the original meaning of Christmas can get a little lost. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got nothing against Bing Crosby, cookies, parties, Santa, and seasonally wrapped gifts. In fact, I love them and look forward to them each Christmas. However, I find I can loose sight of what Christmas is really about amidst it all. I even remember as a kid sitting in church and thinking the story of Jesus’ birth was not nearly as exciting as Santa. But as I’ve grown up and come to a better understanding of Jesus and who He is, I’ve found Santa’s got nothing on the story of Jesus’ birth.

The Creator of the Universe, whose very essence is love, looks upon the world He has created and is saddened. He made it perfect – so perfect – but his own children, his image-bearers, have allowed sin and darkness to pollute and corrupt it all. For centuries, the world has known grief, violence, sickness, and death. And yet, despite His sorrow at it all, He does not despair for He has a plan. He will save it all. He will redeem what was lost, free what has been held captive, and, eventually, return it all to the glory and perfection in which He made it at the very beginning. To do so, however, will cost Him more than we can even imagine.

He works with people throughout the generations, drawing them close to Him and helping them learn His ways. He molds and shapes the ancient world so it will be fertile ground for the work He will do. And when the time is right, He sets it all in motion. God Himself takes on flesh as He is formed into the tiny body of a child within the womb of a scared but faithful young girl in the relatively unimportant land of Judea. God the Father continues to guide the girl and her young fiancé as they prepare for the child’s birth and travel to the distant village of Bethlehem. And there, under the light of a celebratory star, God the Son – Jesus – is born. His surroundings are meager and humble. His bed is little more than a feeding trough for animals. He is not robed in rich fabrics but in a simple swaddling cloth. And, yet, His birth is the greatest news ever to be heralded. The heavens cannot contain it, and as an angel appears to a group of poor, marginalized shepherds in the nearby fields, an angelic choir breaks into song. God has come! God has left that which is perfect and chosen to come into the mess of our world, a mess we have made all on our own. He has come to set us free, redeem us from our sins, and banish the darkness with His glorious light! Even distant scholars who do not know God find themselves drawn to His side. Meeting this infant who is God, they cannot help but worship Him.

In the years to come, Jesus grows into a man whom people continue to be drawn to as He teaches, preaches, and does the miraculous. His words ring true in their hearts and give them newfound hope. He shows love and grace to those who have sinned and goes out of His way to include those whom others have overlooked or stigmatized. He humbles the prideful and raises up the lowly. And although He dies at the hands of angry and vindictive men who cannot see past their own sin to recognize who He is, He forgives them. He forgives us all. His death – the death of God Himself – is a sacrifice on behalf of the whole of creation. Through it, He brings eternal redemption. And with His resurrection three days later, we are given new life. New hope. New joy and a new beginning.

The everlasting peace and redemption Christ’ birth promised has not fully happened just yet. We still wait, knowing that His work is not over yet and trusting it will come. But we do not wait idly by. Rather, He calls us each to live in such a way as to be a witness of His love and grace as we work to bring His Kingdom and His ways into this world that is still suffering in the darkness of sin. He calls us to be storytellers and grace-givers. He calls us to redeem in His name what we can and draw people into His love and truth.

This Christmas, as we go about our family traditions and enjoy the holiday season, let’s make sure we take time to truly think about why we are called to have such joy and generosity and peace this time of year. It’s not because it’s the “Christmasy thing to do” or even the nice or “Christian” thing to do. It’s because it’s the Jesus thing to do, and His birth is something that should bring us joy and peace every day of the year.

The Importance of Family Traditions

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Every family has traditions.   Some are so woven into the fabric of family life it may be difficult to even identify them such as watching football after church or eating spaghetti every Thursday night. Other traditions, like taking every family member out for lunch on his or her birthday, are intentionally celebrated.   The holidays are where most people associate traditions to family life.   Christmas seems to be one of the most apparent environments for family traditions to develop. If I asked you to reflect on traditions that occur in your family’s Christmas season, you might find you have some that began in previous generations. My wife’s family has strong Scandinavian roots, so Christmas always includes Swedish Meatballs, lefse, and lutefisk. However, at our own house, we traditionally make truffle cookies instead of the typical desserts from my wife’s heritage. Our family looks forward to both. Well, all except the lutefisk.

Traditions provide an element of identity to children. Kids associate family traditions as being a part of a unit, a bigger community than just themselves. Participating in the various traditions of faith, culture, and home life allows each member to identify with a larger body of people.
Traditions also provide memory milestones. The Christmas season is often a nostalgic time when we recall the excitement, joy, and anticipation of celebrating Christmas. The season’s fond traditions provide a milestone in our memories, triggered by Christmas music, decorations, or even advertisements.

We thought we’d share a few of the traditions celebrated by several of our staff members. Feel free to comment and share your family’s Christmas traditions, as well!

Jeanelle Kummer:

  • After Christmas Eve dinner, Grandpa would read the Christmas Story from Luke before we opened presents
  • Our family would enjoy driving around during the Christmas season and look at Christmas light displays and then have a cup of hot chocolate afterwards
  • We make a birthday cake for Jesus with our kids
  • Christmas Eve dinner includes taco salad

 

Paula Bowlby

  • Every Christmas Eve as a child, we would get ready to attend Christmas Mass, but my dad would always seem to forget something in the house before we left, and magically, when we got back home, we would find Santa had left gifts.
  • We would have steak or fondue for Christmas Eve
  • For my family these days, I make waffles on Christmas morning every year
  • We also did an Advent calendar with the kids when they were young

 

Patrick Showers

  • Every Christmas Eve, we read the story of Jesus’ birth. My wife’s great-aunt has done this for her family for the past 60 years.
  • Since we live away from both our families, we celebrate Christmas 3 times: once with our immediate family before Christmas, once with one side of the family at Christmas (traveling to that home) and then again over New Years’ with the other side’s family (staying our home). We have a lot of family time!
  • For our immediate family, we have a Christmas elf that shows up each morning in new spots and silly positions. The kids enjoy trying to figure out where he is at and what he’s been up to. His name is Frank.
  • When we celebrate Christmas with our kids, we usually have a pajama day and eat breakfast favorites for supper such as carmel rolls and Swedish tea rings.

 

Traditions are elements of family life that go beyond just being fun. They can remind us of our identity through the generations, give us a sense of belonging, provide snapshot in our memory bank to recall and share with the next generation, and help us celebrate life together. We hope your family has a very merry Christmas!