Each Advent Sunday, we Pipers gather at the table for a meal and hear a word from the Bible before lighting the next candle.  When the children were younger, each week's passage probably would be one part of the Christmas story from Matthew or Luke.  As they've grown older, we've expanded the reading to include Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah's coming.  Then on other days, whenever we sit at the dining room table where the candles are the centerpiece, we light that week's number of candles.

The light, brighter by the week, points us toward Jesus who has called us to be "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Advent Calendar

"Mommy, Mommy!  May I open the next window on the calendar?"  A simple pasteboard Advent calendar with one flap to open on each day in December is probably the most familiar way to help a child understand the wait until Christmas.  In the stores several themes are likely to be available, including Swiss mountain villages and Santa's workshops.  But since the Advent – the coming – we're waiting for is Christ's, let's make sure our daily countdown has a real Christmas setting.

For our family a more permanent calendar has become a tradition.  When our first child was a toddler, I could find hardly any Christmas things that had to do with Jesus.  So I create the Noël Calendar, a burlap banner with plastic and wood figures that by December 25 have been attached with Velcro across the top half of the banner to represent the Christmas story.  Throughout the month, that story is told in increments, starting over at the beginning and adding a bit more each day.10

The first year we used the calendar, I learned an important lesson:  Repetition is an excellent way for a child to memorize.  In mid-December, when Karsten was barely two, my mother-in-law died in a bus crash in Israel.  With little time to plan, we were on our way from Minnesota to South Carolina to take care of my father-in-law, who had been injured.  On an impulse I had tossed the calendar into a suitcase.  In the midst of so much confusion, shock, and irregularity, Karsten forgot everything he'd learned about potty training and too much of what he knew about behaving.  But even though he could hardly make a whole sentence on his own yet, he could pick up the Christmas story at any point and keep it going, word for word, as he'd heard it day after day when we did the calendar.

In chapter 4 of this book we thought about the importance of repetition and regularity.  This period in Karsten's life was the time when I began to realize the place of these things in my life with my children – repeating regularly the story that for centuries God's people had longed to know.

Advent – Looking Forward

The verses we read earlier from 1 Peter 1 (vv. 10-12, p. 76) look backward toward God's people who were awaiting his salvation.  The very next verses look forward in Advent, anticipating the return of Jesus.  "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (v. 13).  There will be another advent of Christ; he will come again.

Advent is a season for introspection.  Peter gives us God's high standard as we contemplate our standing with him:  "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (v.16).  This is a time to ask ourselves questions:

• Am I clear-thinking and sober-minded, or are my concerns mainly trivial? (v. 13)

• Is my hope set fully on the grace I will receive from Jesus at his Second Coming, or do I cringe at the thought of leaving behind the life I Iove? (v. 13)

• Am I an obedient child of my Father, or am I still shaped by the passions that drove me before I became a Christian? (v. 14)