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The Big Question?
I sighed and put away the last of the dishes from our Thanksgiving dinner. The next morning marked the start of the holiday shopping season. My mind brewed with anxious thoughts. Why did life have to be so hard?
With our kids tucked in bed, I whispered to my husband, Loren, "What are we going to do? We don't have any money to buy presents this year."
"I know," he said as he straightened the chairs around the table and blew out the dinner candles.
Loren had lost his job the previous year and the house we were buying went back to the bank. After months of unemployment, he had landed a job that paid more than he'd made before. Although we'd managed to rent a house, we struggled to pay off old bills without incurring new debts.
Weighed down from a long day of too much stuffing and gravy, we plopped onto the couch.
"Maybe, this is the year to make some changes," Loren said.
"And do what?" I said making clear my frustration.
"We could see this as an opportunity to help our children understand the true meaning of Christmas," Loren suggested. "And we can't spend money we don't have," he added which brought an abrupt end to our discussion.
In my heart I knew Loren was right, but regardless I sulked myself to sleep that night. We'd already had to uproot our kids from their home and their friends. Not only did they have to adjust to a new place, now we had to tell them there would be no Christmas!
As for me, Christmas shopping held the thrill of a good treasure hunt. Finding the perfect gift for each person on our list was something I looked forward to. And what about our special night when we put the kids to bed and listened to carols while we wrapped their presents?
Days passed as we wrestled with what to do to replace our usual exchange of gifts. One afternoon, while looking at the magazine rack on my trip to the grocery store, I found a book on Christmas customs and traditions from around the world. I thumbed through the pages and landed on a description of Advent. I'd heard of Advent, but didn't realize the custom included lighting candles and reading various Bible verses during the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I placed the cheap paperback in my shopping cart, sure I'd found the answer to our dilemma. That night I showed the book to Loren. He agreed observing Advent was just what we'd been searching for.
All seemed fine until Loren and I shared our plan with the kids, who were not impressed. "What about the Nintendo game we want?" Ben said.
"You mean there won't be any presents?" Five-year-old Bethany said shaking her head in disbelief.
"And what about a tree?" Joe added. "Are you doing away with that too?"
"No, we'll have a tree," I reassured them. "And if we can afford it, each of you may get one present."
With true leadership, Loren said, "It will be good for us to focus on the real meaning of Christmas, and it's not about presents under a tree."
"You'll see. This is going to be fun," I said trying to lift their dampened spirits, but they remained skeptical.
We didn't have an advent candle ring as shown in the book, so we made do with what we did have, two sets of mismatched candle holders. In the center we placed a large white pillar candle on a saucer for the Christ candle.
Journey toward Bethlehem
Every night after dinner the five of us gathered in the living room and read the scriptures corresponding with that week's focus. Loren started off by reading the first night, the next night ten-year-old Ben read, then nine-year-old Joe. Bethany and I read our verses together.
The first week highlighted prophecies about the coming Savior from the book of Isaiah. When we finished reading on Sunday, Ben said, "Can I light the candle now?"
"Yes." Loren nodded.
With a sparkle in his eyes and a broad grin, Ben leaped to his feet and struck the match against the box clutched in his hand. He touched the flame to the wick and the first purple candle sputtered to life. The flame burned with a gold glow while Ben read from the 3x5 cards Loren had prepared that told what each candle represented. "The prophecy candle reminds us that God told of Christ's coming through the prophets hundreds of years before His birth. And that through Jesus, light came into the world!"
As we read the verses throughout the week and lit the candles on Sundays, the Christmas story came to life in a way we had never experienced before. The kids grew more excited about reading together as the days passed. When Loren arrived home from work, they could hardly wait to eat dinner and take our places in the living room.
"I want to light the Shepherds candle," Joe said with a big smile as through God's Word we journeyed toward Bethlehem.
"Mom, can I do the angel candle?" Bethany begged.
From awkward teens to young adults, year after year our children looked forward to Advent season. What I had worried would be boring repetition of familiar scriptures, turned into a treasured family tradition.
Oh, the crazy part of Christmas still takes place on the 25th of December. The tree is loaded down with presents. Laughter fills the room and the wrapping paper flies in all directions.
But the real celebration happens a week or two earlier when we gather with our grown children and their families. Time and busy work schedules have forced us to adjust our Advent tradition to fit into one evening. Together we read God's story and watch as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus become real for our grandchildren.
What began as a financial struggle for two parents turned out to be the best Christmas of all for it gave us a fresh view of an old story that has rooted two generations and hope for those to follow in the faith.
© 2012 Kathleen Kohler