Adventus. Ecce advenit Dominator Dominus.
Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, is come.
As a kid, my only exposure to Advent was a boxed calendar where you’d count down the days until Christmas by opening little cardboard doors to reveal chocolate shaped like Santa or bells or trees. When we moved here to Ohio about ten years ago, we joined a somewhat traditional church that still observed the Advent wreath devotions, lighting the candles and everything—the violet ones symbolizing penitence, the pink symbolizing joy, and the white symbolizing purity. We’ve never used the candles in our house, but we did start a tradition that helps us prepare our hearts for worship at Christmas.
Regrettably, the Christmas season for most is a month-long (or more) frenzy that distracts us from the heart of Christmas: that Jesus came willingly to be humiliated and die for our sins. I see it on the faces of those who come to worship on Christmas Eve. Pure exhaustion. And the work isn’t even done yet.
To help us stave off the commercialism and busyness of Christmas, we began reading stories as a family that help us focus on the Christ of Christmas. A friend introduced us to Arnold Ytreeide’s trilogy of Advent books.
Over and over Jotham screamed for his family, but there was no one to hear him. They had vanished. He was alone. Where had they gone? How long did they leave? Through quick, stabbing sobs Jotham told himself, “I must look for my family. I must search until I find them.” And so his journey began.
The first of these is Jotham’s Journey, the story of a ten-year-old Jewish boy around the time of Christ’s birth. Jotham gets separated from his family’s caravan and faces thieves, robbers, and kidnappers in trying to find them. He also encounters friendly wise men, shepherds, and innkeepers along the way.
But then Bartholomew noticed that the thunder wasn’t coming from the lake; it was coming from the hills behind the village. … Suddenly several of the fisherman grabbed their oars and knives and hooks and anything else they could find and started running toward town. The others seemed to realize what was happening and did the same, leaving Bartholomew alone on the beach.
The second book we read last year, and it might be my favorite of the two. Bartholomew’s Passage is also set in Israel around the time of Jesus’ birth, and it gives us a glimpse into the terror the Hebrews faced in Roman oppression. Roman soldiers ransack Bartholomew’s village, and he also becomes separated from his family, who were captured as slaves. Bartholomew is a little scarier than Jotham, but it helped me to understand better why the Hebrews were looking for a warrior messiah.
Probably the most difficult part of reading these stories is that our girls never wanted me to stop with that day’s chapter. “Go on, Daddy. Read more.” They couldn’t wait to see what would become of Jotham and Bartholomew. Each chapter ends not unlike a soap opera, usually with a twist or something that makes you want to come back to it.
Also at the close of each chapter is a devotional thought from the story, such as:
Bartholomew has raised a question that Nathan is finding most difficult to answer: Was it wrong for him to lie to the centurion? How do we know that a thing is right or wrong? The answer seems to be that God has given us a simple test, the test of selfishness. …
We can’t wait to start the last of the series, Tabitha’s Travels, this time about a girl (so they may like it more).
I highly recommend these books for your family this Christmas. You still have time to order them on Amazon; the scheduled reading starts on November 28. Your kids will look forward to story time, and more importantly, it will help center you as a family around Jesus.
What about you? Did your family celebrate Advent together? If so, how?