Why do we celebrate Advent? Why not go straight into Christmas? Throughout history, the church has celebrated seasons of preparation (Advent for Christmas and Lent for Easter) because getting ready is important.
One way we have gotten ready at our house is setting up our nativity set. Do you have one too? The figures in our set are made of olive wood from Israel. And my dad made us a wooden barn, an angel, and even a star. We put our nativity set on our entry table—it’s the first thing you see when you walk in our house. It’s a model of the first Christmas and helps us imagine what Jesus’ birth might have been like.
In 1223, St. Francis set up the first ever nativity scene in a cave in Grecio, Italy. It was a live nativity scene with an ox, a donkey, and a manger with hay. St. Francis invited folks to come and see—and then he preached about Jesus’ birth. Over time, nativity scenes came to include Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, wise men, and lots of animals. Everybody wants to see the baby.
If you have a nativity set at your home, I invite you to go and get the wise men and baby Jesus. Pause this recording if you need to. Put the wise men somewhere in your house that is far away and move them a little each day—so that they arrive on Christmas. And also go hide the baby Jesus—he isn’t born yet. Wait to put him in the manger on Christmas—it’s the first thing our family does on Christmas morning.
Part 2: The Present
If you haven’t already, I invite you to light three advent candles—the candles: hope, peace, and joy!
The theme of the third week of Advent is joy. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word joy means a vivid emotion of pleasure, extreme gladness.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for joy is simcha, meaning joy and gladness. Another Hebrew word for joy is sason, meaning exultation or rejoicing.
In the New Testament, the main Greek word for joy is chara. Chara is often connected with a festive dinner or celebration—it’s a party word!
Throughout the Bible, joy is experienced wherever God is: “In your presence, there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16.11).
Jesus brings joy to earth, from the moment of his birth. In the words of the angels to the shepherds: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2.10). When the wisemen finally approach Jesus, “they are overwhelmed with joy” (Matthew 2.10).
And we can’t forget one of the most popular Christmas carols: “Joy to the World.”
“Joy to the World, the Lord is come: Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing...”
Let’s listen to what joy looks like through part of the story of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. All good stories contain some trouble—and this story is no different. Edmund has joined forces with the evil White Witch, Queen of Narnia. In today’s passage Edmund and the Witch come upon a joyful banquet in the woods. Listen for what joy sounds like—and how Edmund and the Witch react:
“A little way off at the foot of a tree sat a merry party, a squirrel and his wife with their children and two satyrs and a dwarf and an old dog-fox, all on stools round a table. Edmund couldn’t quite see what they were eating, but it smelled lovely and there seemed to be decorations of holly and he wasn’t at all sure that he didn’t see something like a plum pudding. At the moment when the sledge stopped, the Fox, who was obviously the oldest person present, had just risen to its feet, holding a glass in its right paw as if it was going to say something. But when the whole party saw the sledge stopping and who was in it, all the gaiety went out of their faces. The father squirrel stopped eating with his fork halfway to his mouth and one of the satyrs stopped with its fork actually in its mouth, and the baby squirrels squeaked with terror.
‘What is the meaning of this?’ asked the Witch Queen. Nobody answered.
‘Speak vermin!’ she said again. ‘Or do you want my dwarf to find you a tongue with his whip? What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence? Where did you get all these things?’
‘Please, your Majesty,’ said the Fox, ‘we were given them. And if I might make so bold as to drink your Majesty’s very good health—’
‘Who gave them to you?’ said the Witch.
‘F-F-F-Father Christmas,’ stammered the Fox.
‘What?’ roared the Witch, springing from the sledge and taking a few strides nearer to the terrified animals. ‘He has not been here! He cannot have been here! How dare you—but no. Say you have been lying and you shall even now be forgiven.’
At that moment one of the young squirrels lost its head completely.
‘He has—he has—he has!’ it squeaked, beating its little spoon on the table. Edmund saw the Witch bite her lips so that a drop of blood appeared on her white cheek. Then she raised her wand. ‘Oh, don’t, don’t, please don’t,’ shouted Edmund, but even while he was shouting she had waved her wand and instantly where the merry party had been there were only statues of creatures (one with its stone fork fixed forever halfway to its stone mouth) seated round a stone table on which there were stone plates and a stone plum pudding.”
Oh my, Queen of Narnia. How do you imagine she really feels when she sees the feast? I wonder if deep down inside she is jealous of the joy the animals feel. And she turns them all into stone because she feels sad, lonely, and empty. The Witch has no room for joy in her kingdom. Opposite of God’s kingdom. God not only has room for joy—God is joy.
Part 3: Looking Ahead
This brings us to the last part of our chat: what does joy look like in you and me? How can joy live inside us—in our bodies, hearts, and minds? And how can we share this joy with the world?
Let’s start with our bodies: we can act on joy by letting it flow through our bodies. Let’s practice. Please walk across the room you are in, slowly. How does that feel in your body? And now, skip across the room. Does that feel different than walking? I can’t be grumpy and skip at the same time. Skipping requires that I tap into joy—and share my joy with the world.
Next let’s look at our hearts: we can feel joy when we are paying attention to the present moment (not looking back or looking ahead)—but truly present. Kids are usually much better at this than adults. Let’s practice! What do you notice about this present moment that brings your joy? What do you see? Hear? Feel? Smell? Taste? Our senses can tether us to the present moment—which is where joy is.
Last but not least, let’s focus on our minds: our minds tend to fast forward through joy—and linger on the hard moments. Let’s linger on joy. Look at your advent candles burning. Think about a moment today when you felt joy—or bought joy to someone else. Joy is a clue that God is near.
Now it’s your turn to talk as a family.
- What can you do to show joy?
- What does joy feel like for you? What helps you connect with this feeling?
- What thoughts lead you to joy? What helps you to focus on joy?
Before you blow out the candles of hope, peace, and joy, receive this blessing—listen for hope, peace, and joy:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15.13)
Go in joy!