Advent Wreaths – The Other Side

Ed. — I’m putting my wife’s comment on the front page to balance out my puritanical animosity.

I knew that you hated the wreath the moment that you spotted it. Without your having said a word, I could actually feel the disdain coming from you.

Even though I knew that you were going to hate having that wreath in the sanctuary, I have to say that I was thrilled to see it. I love the Advent Wreath tradition. The first year that my childhood church began to celebrate Advent, I thought it was really weird and I didn’t like it, simply because it was different from what we had always done. But that first year, families in the church committed to celebrating Advent, and my family was one of the ones who participated. My parents bought us an Advent wreath (or it may have been a gift from the church — I don’t remember) and we had a book of devotions that carried us through the entire season of Advent. We learned the significance of the individual candles, how each week focused on different things leading up to the lighting of the Christ Candle. Every night, my family sat around the Advent wreath, we read a devotional as a family, and lit the candles of the wreath as a family. I think you’ll see the theme that I’m stressing here — family, family, family. I remember thinking how amazing it was that my parents took the time out to have that devotional time with us. We hadn’t done anything like that since I was a small child and would read Bible stories and say my prayers before bed.

I have to say that the year we all celebrated Advent was truly the most special Christmas I have ever celebrated, in terms of appreciating the real meaning of Christ’s birth and life. My mind and heart had been made to consider the impact of Christ’s birth every single day for the entire Advent season. This was not a cursory, passing thought of, “Oh yeah. Christ’s birth. Meaning for the season cliches and so forth.” If you are to learn the meaning of Advent, you cannot do it without applying your mind and heart.

Erick, I know that you have strong feelings about not doing things that are not by the book — both doctrinally and traditionally. I only wish that you had been raised in an environment that had allowed you to celebrate the wonder of this season as I did. Both the Advent Wreath celebration, and the celebration of Christ’s Birthday, were such special parts of my childhood, and are things that I want to pass on to our children.

Each year, my Aunt Carol baked a birthday cake for Jesus, and all my cousins and I would get to sing Happy Birthday and we had a party for Him. Now as an adult, I can see that this may sound sort of silly. But in a home of faith, where the parents were doing all they could to raise their children to know and love God, what more obvious way to portray the meaning of Christmas than to have the same kind of celebration for Jesus’ birthday as children have for their own birthdays? We couldn’t miss the significance of the day, because it was shown to us in vivid example as we sang and had a piece of cake. And as a woman who has given birth to a child of my own, I have to imagine that Mary, although she knew that her Son would not live a normal life in many ways, she did not go through nine months of carrying that child, then the difficulty of labor and delivery, and not be anything but happy when she held her baby boy in her arms. She was happy. The birth of Christ was not a sad time for her little family. So while there is sadness in contemplating the trials of Christ and his suffering, don’t miss the joy that would have accompanied His birth.

For others who read this, Erick and I have talked about the birthday cake for Jesus tradition, and while he does not like it, and may not participate with me, he has said that I may continue that tradition with our own children without him preventing me from doing it. He just doesn’t like it personally.

Well, I just have to hope that once he sees moments like this played out in front of him, that he will be able to get past his hatred of anything different. And for the record, I know no person who could have had a more stern Baptist upbringing than I did. My childhood church is not like it used to be, but when I was growing up, it was very conservative. The same thing goes for my Grandma’s church, which we attended any time we were at her house. I attended two sessions of Vacation Bible School each summer (once at my home church and once at my Grandma’s church) and we were in the church for basically every event that occurred. We were a family that could be said of them “If the doors were open, we were at church.” So I don’t think liking or disliking things like an Advent Wreath have anything to do with being raised Baptist. I think it has to do with having had the opportunity to learn what the celebration of Advent means, down to the meaning of each individual candle and how we are to prepare our hearts for Christmas, and being exposed to something like that at a time in my life when I was open to it.

Don’t be so set in your ways that you miss a blessing. And don’t be so set in your ways that you may prevent your children from experiencing something that may help them come to know God in a more real and personal way. Think about how much it warms your heart when you see Evelyn stop to hold my hand during the blessing. She does that, not because she understands what we are doing, not because she is also thanking God for her food and family, but because the example has been set before her. She lives in a home where opportunities to see gratitude and thankfulness and obedience to God are shown. Let’s not squelch those opportunities when we have chances to show her, in real, tangible ways, that God loves us and cares for us. Let’s not pass by moments that she could experience God, come to know Him, love Him, and understand Him and His plan for her precious life.

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Erick Erickson

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    I’ll help Christy; the Advent Calendar has roots in the 16th Century, but became popular in the 19th Century when a Munich housewife tired of being ask when Christmas would be here. This is what will happen when Evelyn learns to ask when are we going to get to where we are going on vacation, as soon as you pull out of the drivewy, and ask every 10 miles! LOL

  • I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone object to the advent wreath, but I guess I can see Erik’s point. My wife will confirm that my views on doctrine, the sacraments, worship, etc. are as puritanical as they get, and I too have an innate aversion to the “ritual” use of symbols in worship. However, we do use the advent wreath in our family, and I think it can be very beneficial when used appropriately.

    My siblings and I also experienced the traditional Southern Baptist upbringing (although I’ve since become a “Baptist That Drinks”, aka Presbyterian), and my parents were always extremely averse to any ritualistic or symbolic practices. However, they did consistently use the advent wreath during December. It was not something our church administered, but a private devotional we participated in as a family.

    As a child I remember that it was something I looked forward to every year, and it really brought us together as a family. We would meet every night in December before bedtime and have a short devotion after lighting the candles. The book we used had a different lesson for each night, and each lesson was developed around a symbol. The symbols followed a Scriptural progression from creation and the fall, to the birth, death and resurrection; and it really helped us as children to see the entire “picture” of God’s plan.

    Looking back at my own experience with this as a child, I chose to use this practice with our daughter as well. I have always looked at it as nothing more than a family devotional time, but I’m glad you have raised this point. It’s important to make the distinction between the ordained sacraments and other forms of worship, and to make sure that any tools used in teaching/worship are scripturally accurate, and are used as instruments, not objects, of worship.

    Our church leadership has generally encouraged us as families to use this tool in our homes, but has refrained from implementing it as a form of corporal worship for this very reason.