Two truths and a lie about celebrating Advent

By Emily Jensen, Risen Motherhood

I’ll never forget the year we had a tiny Christmas tree. With four boys four and under, I didn’t want to spend their naptime sweeping ornament shards off the floor or trying to climb-proof a large tree, so instead of fighting the stage of life we were in, I embraced it. I put up an itty-bitty tree on a stand, decked with a single strand of lights. That year, the month of December came and went with little fanfare and even fewer crafts, decorations, or Advent devotions.

The “tiny Christmas tree year” is just one of the times I wondered about the role of Advent in the life of our family. As a mom who loves Jesus and wants to share the gospel with my kids, I don’t want to miss any opportunity to incorporate Christ into family traditions. But with each passing year, it seems like Advent resources multiply, along with the pressure to perform. Christian moms hop on Instagram to share pics from their Jesse Tree exchange parties, link their family’s 25-day devotional plan, and swap Advent book roundups. All of this is super helpful and inspiring. Even here at Risen Motherhood, we’ve spent years curating and sharing Advent resources for our community. I’m thrilled to see a culture of moms who are passionate about bringing Christ straight back to the heart of the Christmas season! But are we at risk for any errors as we embrace these traditions?

Truth: Advent is a great chance to point our kids to Christ
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means “a coming” or “arrival.”[1] Specifically, in the context of the historical Christian church, it signified the first coming of Christ and our longing for his second coming. While the specific origins of Advent are unclear, what we do know is that Advent took its place in the liturgical calendar as Christians used different seasons and ceremonies to remember the story of redemption. (There’s a lot to unpack here, including the ways that Advent and Christmas are laced with cultural symbols, so it’s worth doing some reading if you’re curious about the details.) Today, in the twenty-first century Western Christian church, Advent is a widely adopted season, observed by many families and local churches alike. It encompasses the first four weeks of December, culminating in the celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas Day.

All of that to say—Advent is a thing. And for many Christians, it’s a great way to emphasize God’s redemptive plan in the midst of a post-Christian culture. While secular Christmas celebrations center around Santa, reindeer, and elves (along with a huge batch of presents), Advent puts the true gift in the manger back into focus. Bible readings, devotional activities, picture books, candles, and hymns are wonderful ways to recount the story of Christ’s coming, including the work he did on our behalf. Advent can be a catalyst for sharing the gospel with our kids as we observe a special season alongside other Christians.

Truth: We can enjoy Advent with creativity and flexibility
Since the celebration of Advent isn’t a biblical mandate, we have a lot of freedom and flexibility in how we do it (if we choose to observe it at all). Christian moms don’t need to feel pressure to do something elaborate or recreate the same traditions as their friends. One family can light Advent candles and do a Bible reading each Sunday while another can put up special ornaments. One family can hang a simple paper chain to build the feeling of anticipation, while another can open up daily surprises on a calendar. The main joy of Advent isn’t the practices, traditions, or activities in and of themselves, but the person they point us to. Because we believe the gospel and trust that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, we don’t put our hope in our observance of religious seasons.[2] Where the celebration of Advent brings out sincere worship of God, we can enter joyfully. Advent traditions can glorify God in many creative and different ways, as we remember him and praise his name.

Lie: Faithful Christian moms must do something for Advent
But here’s the catch and the potential error—with the mass availability of Advent resources and daily calendars, podcast series and book roundups, we can start to feel like this opportunity for worship is a requirement for Christian faithfulness. As if Christian moms must plan, organize, and execute family activities and readings for the Advent season or we’re not being faithful and God is not pleased. We can start to feel mom guilt and overwhelm about the activities we choose and the ones we don’t. Advent can become another external measuring stick to determine whether or not we’re a “good” mom or “good” at all in the eyes of God.

In the midst of all the Advent resources, we need to silence the lie of “must.” If we’re Christian moms, then we’re gospel moms—moms who believe we can’t perform our way into God’s good graces because we need the grace of Christ. We’re moms who are free from having to observe special seasons and days to prove our devotion to God. Our whole devotion is to a person, not a month on the calendar. We can forsake Advent as long as we don’t forsake Christ. We can long for his coming and discuss it with our children with or without the fancy resources.
If you are a mom who loves Advent and enjoys it as a sincere way to worship the Savior—you’re free to celebrate. But if you’re having a “tiny Christmas tree” type of year and it’s just not attainable to do all the things, it really is okay. You can love Christ, read his Word, and sing hymns to your children just because. The Advent season doesn’t have to be picture-perfect (even by the standards of Christian culture) for you to be good in the eyes of God through Christ. Rest in the gift of the Savior and rejoice, all year round.