Preparing for Advent

It’s sounds kind of funny to talk about preparing for a season of preparation, doesn’t it? But, Advent is almost here, and prepare we must!

Last year, I shared our daily Jesse Tree readings. A Jesse Tree, for those who don’t know, is a kind of a family tree for Jesus. It doesn’t include only His biological relatives, however…it also includes those people, prophets, and fulfilled prophecies closely associated with the Christmas story. There were twenty-eight readings last year, because Advent was as long as it can possibly be. This year, Advent is short, so a few readings must be left out, (which ones to exclude is at the discretion of the reader). Here are all twenty-eight topics one convenient location:

In addition to the Jesse Tree readings, I’m also adding readings for the “O Antiphons” in the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve, as well as a “Jesse Tree Extension“–readings for the 12 Days of Christmas, with corresponding ornaments that will go on the Jesse Tree with the Advent and Antiphon ornaments. I’m very excited about these two additions to our Advent/Christmas routine!

If you haven’t purchased your Advent candles for the year yet, there’s still time! We light our candles before we say the “Prayer at the Close of the Day” from Lutheran Service Book, but I know some families that light them during dinner, or at another time during the day. We also sing a verse from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” at this time. I always take my Advent wreath into the store with me when I buy the candles, because even though the tapers all look the same, there are minor differences in their diameter, which can make them hard to fit into a specific wreath. I recommend that you choose your Advent candles based on the colors used in your church…we used to use purple candles at home, but since our church uses blue,we’ve switched over, and it’s nice to have that continuity between church and home.

There are also several church year commemorations that take place during the season of Advent. We always remember St. Nicholas (in addition to reading about the real man, we also decorate our Christmas tree on December sixth), and St. Lucia ( in our home, we celebrate this day with lussekattes and Lucia Brides and Star Boys, in addition to reading about Santa Lucia), and the last few years, we’ve added Ambrose of Milan (known for penning the Advent hymn “Savior of the Nations, Come”), as well. This usually involves reading a book about the life of the Saint, and/or discussing his or her history, and how God used that person to spread the Gospel. Sometimes we do an additional activity, like opening stockings on St. Nicholas Day, visiting a church named for Ambrose on December seventh, and  making St. Lucia crowns and Star Boy hats on December 13. In addition to these, there are dates set aside during Advent for Noah, St. Andrew, John of Damascus, Daniel and the Three Young Men, Adam and Eve, Katharina von Bora Luther, and St. Thomas (a great time to visit elderly members of your congregation, particularly those who are shut-ins).

I also can’t wait to start our daily Advent readings. This year, we’re back at the beginning of the trilogy with Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide. But, there are two other books in the series to look forward to: Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels. There are other books that count down the days to Christmas, too…some with more secular stories, and some that simply count down the days in December, instead of the actual days of Advent. I like the Jotham trilogy because they both tie into the Bible story, and because they’re meant to be read every day in Advent, no matter how long or short it is.

Advent is my very favorite time of year. I love the solemnity, the anticipation, the getting ready. What are your favorite Advent traditions?

The Jesse Tree–Day Twenty-Eight

Today was the final reading for our Jesse Tree–I can’t believe how quickly the season of Advent has gone by!

We turned to Luke 2 for the third day in a row, and read the whole story, verses 1-20, of Jesus’s birth. He fulfilled all the prophecies and was born in that lowly stable in Bethlehem, where the first people to greet Him, (other than His parents), were a bunch of common shepherds. His birth was heralded by angels and a new star in the sky. He is why we celebrate Christmas. He is the reason for our rejoicing.

Merry Christmas!

The Jesse Tree–Day Twenty-Seven

Only one more day to go!

Today’s reading was about the angel(s). The reading specifically focused on the angel(s) that appeared to the shepherds, so like yesterday, we read Luke 2:8-14. This also provided us with a good opportunity, however, to review our previous readings, and talk about all of the different times angels, (especially Gabriel), appeared in the stories relating to Christmas. Starting with Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, before either John the Baptist and Jesus were born, and continuing through the Christmas story with the shepherds, and even after, with the Wise Men, and again, Joseph, angels are integral in bringing God’s message, especially at this time of year!

The Jesse Tree–Day Twenty-Six

Today’s reading was Luke 2:8-20–the well-known passage about the shepherds hearing the Christmas message from the angels. I think that this is my very favorite part of the Christmas story. Maybe it comes from seeing the Charlie Brown Christmas special too many times, but it’s quite a picture the Bible paints with the description of the shepherds in the fields, being greeting first by one angel, and then a multitude of them, (I wonder just how many angels are in a multitude?). The thought of the shepherds dropping everything and running off to see Baby Jesus, and then telling everyone they saw on the way back–it’s the very beginning of the Gospel message being spread! Such a beautiful story, and it gets additional points if read in the old KJV, where it has the added bonus of being extra poetic!

The Jesse Tree–Day Twenty-Five

Today’s reading was unique, because it focused not on a person, (or people), but on an object–the Star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6). Now, I understand the importance of the star, especially when it came to leading the Wise Men to Bethlehem…it’s a symbol for Jesus being a gift not only to Jews, but Gentiles as well. Still, it seemed like they were just trying really hard to find another item for the tree with this particular reading…there’s only so much you can say about a star!

The Jesse Tree–Day Twenty-Four

Today’s reading was about Joseph, Guardian of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25). The Bible reading came from Matthew, which was a nice change, since our last several readings have been from Luke. It’s interesting to compare the different perspectives of the writers. We spent some time talking about the fact that even though Joseph wasn’t Jesus’s biological father, his lineage could still be traced back to King David. We also talked about his visit from the angel, and how he decided not to divorce Mary, even though he could have, because of what the angel said to him.

We’re nearing the end of our daily readings…there are just enough left for each child to hang one more ornament on the tree!

The Jesse Tree–Day Twenty-Three

Today’s reading was about Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer). This followed nicely on the heels of yesterday’s sermon, which was also about her. We focused on the message the angel brought her (Luke 1:26-56), and her reaction to it, and I also read the words to the Magnificat. The reading from the Jesse Tree book did require a little off-the-cuff editing, as it got a little too Catholic for me, referring to Mary as “our mother in heaven,” but other than that, I think it was a nice explanation of the life of our Savior’s mother.

The Jesse Tree–Day Twenty-Two

This was the one reading that I wish I could have left out, (and if Advent hadn’t been the maximum number of days it can be this year, it would have been the first to go!). The reading focused on Anne and Joachim, who, according to tradition, were the parents of Mary. Now, I have no problem with learning about Mary’s parents, and how God used them to raise her in the knowledge of Scripture, but there are still some problems with having them as part of the Jesse Tree. First, we don’t know what their names really were. We also didn’t actually have a Bible reading about them, as they don’t actually appear in the Bible. All we had to go by was a brief paragraph in our Jesse Tree book, and some ad-libbing on my part, which seems kind of contrary to the rest of the Jesse Tree activities. So, I get why they were included, (and I am grateful for the parents they were to Mary!), but I still don’t think they were the best choice.

The Jesse Tree–Day Twenty-One

As a follow-up to yesterday’s reading about Zechariah and Elizabeth, today we read about their son, John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12). We covered a lot of information, from  prior to his birth through Jesus’s baptism. The children’s (and my!) favorite part of the reading, though, was when John jumped in Elizabeth’s womb at the  presence of Christ in Mary’s womb. It’s such a small part of the passage, but so very cool, seeing the Holy Spirit work even in an unborn child. What a conversation Elizabeth and Mary must have had!