As a young mom with zero experience celebrating Advent at home, I sewed a Jesse Tree calendar, decorated 24 paper symbols to tuck inside the pockets, and hung it up on our living room wall. The idea to make the tree had been planted in my mind by an older church member who showed me hers. “It’s a Jesse Tree,” she’d said. “We read a Bible story each day and then one of the kids gets to hang the matching symbol. It helps us focus on the real meaning of Christmas.“
Since I’d spent the previous day in a crowded mall fretting about how many gifts I had to buy and peeling candy canes from the sticky fingers of my kids as they waited for a photo op with Santa, refocusing our attention on Jesus’ birth seemed like a very good idea.
And so that year, for a week of nights before Christmas and with visions of devout children dancing in my head, I made our Jesse Tree. I didn’t finish it until December 19th. I know this because I remember having to speed-read our way through the Bible stories. I also remember that the whole taking-turns-hanging-the-ornaments thing didn’t go that well either.
Still, we persisted. We never did have the very merry Martha Stewart-ish Jesse Tree experience I’d initially imagined, but 25 years later I still hang that same Jesse Tree on my wall. I have to—it’s the first thing our now grown-up kids look for when they come home for Christmas.
The takeaway: faith practices don’t have to be perfect to have a lifelong impact.
Which brings me to Advent 2021: a month of days at the end of another challenging year in which overwhelmed parents have spent a great deal of time hunkered down with their kids at home. This year more than ever, the church has a wonderful opportunity to encourage and equip families with children to practice Advent at home in ways that can last a lifetime. Read on for a surprisingly simple but super meaningful way to supply busy families with tools they can use to nurture faith at home this December.
Advent in an Envelope
Mail (or hand deliver!) to each household a 9 x 12 envelope with the following tucked inside:
One set of colorful Jesse Tree Ornaments
One copy of the Jesse Tree: God’s Big Advent Story devotional. (We love the fact that Sherman Street CRC had their printer spiral-bind each copy for their families. #keepsake)
A warm and friendly note. Here’s mine:
As we approach Christmas during what has been a very challenging year, we want to bless you with an Advent resource that’s designed to help your family pause, breathe, and wonder your way into God’s story.
We hope that this simple gift serves as a reminder that you are beloved by your church family and by the God who came to earth.
God’s Big Family, your church
When I reflect on my introduction to Advent practices all those years ago, two things stick out for me:
I was willing to try something new because I wanted my kids to grow in faith.
I was encouraged and equipped by someone from my church to do so.
Imagine what might happen if all of the families with kids in our churches were lovingly encouraged and equipped to practice Advent in their homes this year (and beyond).
PS: Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred is a terrific new book by Presbyterian pastor and mom of three Traci Smith. The book is filled with encouragement, wisdom, and do-able ideas. I can’t think of a better additional resource to tuck inside your Advent envelopes this year.