Sunday is the traditional start of Advent. This may be a word that many Protestants are unfamiliar with, but it is simply a word, originating from a Latin word meaning "coming", which describes a season of anticipation or waiting for the celebration of Christmas. It can become a celebration all on its own. Just as the Jews anticipated the coming Messiah, we do things that help us anticipate the coming celebration.
As I stated in a previous post, several years ago, Kelly and I decided to deliberately include things in our family traditions meant to help our children - and us - focus on the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Many children can anticipate Santa and presents, but we wanted to somehow make the significance of an all-powerful God coming to earth as a helpless baby, and coming only to die for us, as real as possible to them. Yes, our kids look forward to presents and to giving gifts, but our goal was to also make this time of year of deeper import to their lives and faith.
One of the tools we use is a set of books suggested by several friends by Arnold Ytreeide. The first is Jotham's Journey, then Bartholomew's Passage, and then Tabitha's Travels. If you clicked on any of these links, you might have noticed how expensive they are. Unfortunately they are out of print (so used copies can be pricey), but maybe you can find one at a used book store or borrow one. Or check in May, they are probably cheaper then.
Each of these books is about a pre-teen child who is swept up in an exciting story set in Israel of bandits, slavery, rescue, Essenes, faith, love, family, and cliff-hanger endings. The story is divided into sections to be read each night, culminating in the climax on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day with the birth of Jesus. It is a great time for the whole family to gather around and listen to as these children - and the adults in the story as well - are faced with their misunderstandings of who the Messiah will be. Because of the exciting way each section ends, the children can't wait until the next night's story. And it keeps the coming Messiah in their minds every evening during this time.
Just a couple of notes: the books are meant to be done over a three year span, one book per year. We have done each of them once, have read Jotham and Bart twice, and will be reading Tabitha this year. Also, there are other books on the market meant for this same purpose. The Ytreeide books are in novel form, with applications after each night's selection, so it makes them particularly enjoyable, but I found several Advent devotion books on CBD that would fulfill the same purpose. I can't personally vouch for any of them, but if you are interested there are resources out there.
One final note: While we love these books, we disagree with some of the conclusions Ytreeide draws in the nightly applications, as they go against some of the things we believe as Reformed Christians. It's not in every one, but there are a few things sprinkled throughout the applications. So this last year, I rewrote the applications that we objected to for the Tabitha and Bartholomew books. I meant to do all three, but haven't made it to Jotham yet.