"Are you ready for Christmas?" Whenever someone asks that question, my heartrate accelerates as I remember all the things yet to do. However, if we thought about Advent a little differently, our "getting ready" could be more of a holy time.
Most of us strive to "keep Christ in Christmas," but the busyness has a way of encroaching upon our joy and worship. We might benefit from deciding to make time for some important activities as we get ready for Christmas.
Worship and devotion
Worship with your church. Your congregation will probably hold some special services throughout the Christmas season. In addition to Sunday worship during Advent and Candlelight Christmas Eve services, plan to attend the children's Christmas pageant, the choir concert, and the Longest Night/Blue Christmas services. If you do not have a regular congregation with whom you worship, find one near you using Find-A-Church.
Worship with your family. Purchase or make an Advent wreath and hold a small service each Sunday night to help everyone in the family get ready for Jesus' birth. Pockets, a devotional from Upper Room Ministries, has a kid-friendly plan for family devotions around the Advent wreath. Discipleship Ministries has produced a guide for Advent family devotions that includes things to do or think about each day leading up to Christmas.
Worship privately. Spending time alone with God can be a great way to draw closer. Upper Room Ministries publishes devotions every day of the year that offer a scripture reading, a devotional thought, and a prayer. Some help us make room in our lives for Christmas. Others ask us to color as we reflect. Still othes use the words of hymns to inspire us.
Take the UMC.org Advent Quiz. Whether you answer correctly or not, you will find fascinating things to read or watch to help you in your celebration of the season.
Decorating and baking
Pray through your decorating. Many of our Christmas decorations have religious significance. The wreath is round, reminding us of the constancy of God. The Christmas tree is an evergreen, a reminder that God's promises never fail. Even the lights can serve as reminders that Jesus is the light of world! Not to mention the nativity scene on the coffee table and the angels on the special Christmas party napkins. Whether decorating yourself or enjoying others' displays, let the images spur you to prayers of gratitude.
Bake some extra. When baking for guests, the cookie swap, or to give as gifts, take a few extra moments and make one more batch to give away. Then visit the local homeless shelter, food bank, first responders, or others with whom you want to share.
Set up a Jesse Tree. A Jesse Tree can be used as different kind of Advent calendar. Each day an ornament is added to the tree. The ornaments are reminders of the story of our faith from creation to the birth of Jesus. As the tree fills, we are moving closer and closer to Christmas Day. Fairhope (Alabama) United Methodist Church has some wonderful instructions.
Remember. These preparations are sometimes filled with memories—ornaments from our childhood Christmas tree, recipes your first learned from your grandmother, and more. Take the time to savor the memories and give thanks for the saints who have lived before you.
Join a Sunday school class or Bible study. Many United Methodist congregations will offer special Advent education opportunities. These are wonderful times to learn something new, and to connect with others who are getting their souls ready for the coming of Christ.
Study the Bible. The story of God coming to us in the person of Jesus—the incarnation—is central to our Christian faith, and a favorite topic of John Wesley. Get a good, devotional Bible study guide and delve into the meaning of Christmas from a new angle.
Read a book. Maybe you have always wanted to know more about the theology of the incarnation or have always wanted to re-read Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Set aside some time every day to dive into a good book just for fun, or to learn something about Christmas.
Give fair trade. Fair trade gifts, like those available through the vendors certified through The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), support companies that pay their workers a livable wage. These workers are then able to support their families and contribute to a just and sustainable economy.
Give time. Find a mission that your congregation supports, or a neighbor who needs a hand and make a gift of your time. You might shovel snow, drive to doctor's appointments, work at the soup kitchen, or take a meal over once-a-week.
Give money. UMCOR also has some great ways to give gifts that will help others in amazing ways. Your donation to UMCOR can be designated toward specific projects in a series of categories that include things like hunger and poverty, water and sanitation, education, and health ministries. Also, continue to support the ministries and missions of your United Methodist congregation.
Sing. Christmas music is everywhere. Join in the song.
Be creative. Write a poem or song. Paint. Create a collage. Crochet. Work with wood. Use your talents and abilities in celebration of the season and thanksgiving for the gift of Jesus.
Throw a party! Children love birthday parties, so have your kids invite some of their friends to your house for a birthday party for Jesus during winter break. Play games, have some cake and ice cream. Mix birthday and Christmas traditions. Or invite friends over to celebrate Las Posadas, remembering that as Jesus has welcomed us, we are to welcome others.
Enjoy the food. You may not need to be encouraged for this one, but remember the gift of food—even holiday treats—though not to excess. Let the abundance of good food be a reminder of the provision of God. "Taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34:8).
Be kind to yourself. Sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves during this busy time. Give yourself permission to miss a party or two. Choose to be with family, to spend time alone, to see your child's Christmas choir concert at school, and enjoy the season.
What would you add to the list? Email us with ways you draw closer to Jesus during Advent.
This story was first published November 23, 2015. Some editorial changes have been made and links have been updated for 2018.