It is important to differentiate Advent from Christmas with children, whether around the dinner table, in the Sunday school classroom, or from the platform during kids’ worship. To demonstrate a simple way to help make this distinction with kids, let me tell you an Advent story.
A couple years ago around Thanksgiving my whole family decided we were all going to go on a vacation together the following summer. For children’s pastors, summer is always exceptionally busy, and vacations don’t usually materialize, so I was especially excited. We decided to go to Branson, Missouri. It’s no Disney World, but then again, I’m no surgeon. Besides, 60 Minutes once called Branson “the live-music capital of the entire universe.” If Morley Safer said it, I believe it.
In lieu of traditional Christmas presents that year, we decided to give vacation-themed gifts that would prepare us for our trip. In this way, we would also save money, which could then be spent on said vacation. My mother gave each grandkid a new duffel bag with their name on it and clues inside about where we were going. We wrapped pictures of some of the fun stuff to do in Branson. We told stories around the Christmas tree of the fun we had going to Branson as kids. We began to build the excitement.
As the year progressed, we took opportunities to bring up our planned vacation in conversation. When we chose not to eat dinner out or not to spend extra money in any variety of ways, my wife and I talked to our girls about all the fun ways we’d be able to spend the money we were saving on our super-cool vacation that summer.
We looked up videos of some of Branson’s available shows, theme parks, pools, and restaurants and watched them with the kids before bed, building the anticipation of our time away together. We talked about how all the cousins would get to share a room together and have a week-long sleepover. We talked about the meals and snacks we wanted to take and the fun things we’d do in the car on our drive down.
Talking to kids about Advent is as simple as telling a story.
What is something you were looking forward to?
What did you have to do to prepare?
How did that preparation specifically get you ready?
When June hit and we were sixty days away, the girls made a paper chain and each day removed one link. With each passing day, we were one day closer to the big event we’d been preparing for all year.
Finally, August came and it was time to celebrate our vacation! We drove to Branson, ate fried chicken, drove go-karts, rode roller coasters, jumped off cliffs, and stayed up late playing board games at the hotel. It was a classic, budget-friendly American vacation. Great memories.
Looking back, we realized how much our time of preparation and expectation made the vacation even more fun. From the gifts to the videos to the planning to the paper chain, each element got us more excited and ready to celebrate. By the time vacation came, we oozed with anticipation.
In Advent, we participate in the expectation. We wait eagerly for the glorious celebration, yet we continue to live fully while we wait. We live in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God. The Spirit, the Paraclete, is here already. We celebrate the kingdom among us. We know, though, that glory is yet to come. During Advent, we celebrate our belief that God has done the prevenient work to prepare us for the coming of Jesus, and we look forward in hope!
Talking to kids about Advent is as simple as telling a story like this one about a Branson vacation. What is something you were looking forward to? What did you have to do to prepare? How did that preparation specifically get you ready?
Just like preparing for an amazing trip, Advent is the season in which we prepare to celebrate Jesus’s coming at Christmas. We remember the way the people of God had to wait all those years for the coming of the Messiah. We remember by joining in the waiting. Through the Sundays of Advent, we call attention to the hope, peace, joy, and love that will be revealed through Jesus.
Use your own story of waiting and preparing to help your kids have a conversation about Advent.
It’s the expectation of Advent that makes Christmas such a celebration. So maybe you don’t have the privilege of going to Branson, Missouri, on vacation, but you still probably know what it’s like to delight in anticipation. Use your own story of waiting and preparing to help your kids have a conversation about Advent.
Blessings on you in your waiting this Advent season. May you know God more fully as you recognize your great need for Jesus. May you celebrate God entirely as your needs are met through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.