So in the middle of a bruised, divided world, you couldn’t fault the kid for just wanting a tree.
Only two days now from Advent, with parts of the world smouldering in war and attacks and it feeling like everything’s burning at the edges, I wake up with that memory burning of my kid sister …
She couldn’t have been more than 8 when she’d hauled to the woods all by herself and hacked down a scotch pine. The thing had tilted real bad.
Had to be tied up with twine to the banister of the stairs, just to stay standing.
Sometimes the only way to stay standing is to lash yourself to SomeOne stronger.
If you stood in the right place in the living room that year, the scent of the scotch pine masked the bloating of some dead mouse in the vicinity of the kitchen.
I’d gone with her the next year when she sloughed across the field on a Christmas Eve. The snow was up to our knees. Fell icy into the top of our boots, down our pant legs, like a cold ache.
I can still see us:
Two kids alone in the middle of an empty, shadowed field, dragging home a tree we’d found in the woods on a Christmas Eve, the moon spilling like a bowl of milk. It can look like you’re not crying over the spilled milk of what is— but your heart’s soundlessly spilling some of you.
The kid sister didn’t have to say a word.
I could hear her: Didn’t matter that Mom would have gifts for her in grocery bags next morning.
Didn’t matter to her that there’d be a bird of some sort or other on a platter.
Didn’t matter to either one of us that there’d be ice cream dolloped on top of something sweet.
The kid just needed a tree. Sometimes the only way to stay standing is to lash yourself to someOne stronger.
The kid had just needed light in all the dark.
That’s what drove the kid sister out of a broken and bruising home and across pitch black fields to the woods for a tree to haul home — she had desperately needed to string up light.
I wish we’d known that long ago eve: A shattered world only limps into light leaning on the strength of faith.
More than gifts, the kid had needed meaning.
Of all the things we want, what we want most is meaning.
Sometimes you just need a tradition that somehow changes your condition.
So when you get brave only 2 days before the tradition of Advent begins, and just put your feet to the floor, just get out of bed and begin again in a world that desperately needs to string up some Light in the dark, you can feel pretty desperate to grab all the hurting together and just whisper — “Coming.”
Wild to find some hope to haul home? Coming. The grief’s too much? The hope’s not enough? The dark’s too thick and you choke on it and can’t find the light at the end of the tunnel, can’t taste the light for the black? Coming.
We’re on the cusp of the tradition of Advent — and this changes the conditions of everything: He is coming.
Because when the news grabs the world at the throat, shakes it like a bully…
when the phone rings with that call that reverberates for weeks, when you’re sitting up late at the table after everyone’s fallen asleep… you need to know that there’s a resurrection to roll back impossible doors.
It can be like the whole world’s whispering: We’re waiting for You, Lord.
And He can promise it: Coming.
Standing there at the prayer table, it only takes me a minute to simply light a candle that moves directly from the tradition of Giving Thanks to God —- to the tradition of Advent and Wanting and Waiting for More of God.
The house fills with the scent of more and the light dances up the wall and I’m lit: It’s impossible for all the darkness in the world to smother out the light of a single candle in the hand.
You can’t snuff out hope, you can’t smother out hope, you can’t stamp out hope — because He is Coming.
There’s a pen in the upper drawer.
And there’s a box and a book and ribbon in our room — and right here on the edge of Advent, there’s this tradition of the Night Before Advent …
A Coming and a Christmas that was so glorious you couldn’t unwrap it in a day or two, but you had to unwrap it over weeks —-
Yeah, the kids get a bit giddy when I put it under the tree with its tag: Unwrap the Greatest Gift.
They don’t have to ask how long till they can rip into it — because the other tag reads: The Night Before Advent.
They count out the days — only 2 now. There are lights that burn on when all the other lights go out — and when you choose to hold them, you’re warmed in places you didn’t even know had grown cold.
The kid sister, she grew up, and she tells me this: “Words are light — His Word is Light.”
And I grow up and tell her that:
So we will Stay in the Story.
No matter what’s happening in the world — we will Stay in the Story. His Story.
Through the darkest days of the year, through whatever happens, through all of Advent —
We will unfold the Story. We will go hold some Light.
And it all sort of happens…. these boxes labelled with the tradition, “The Night Before Advent Box” —
And laying in a new pair of pajamas for each kid, some popcorn, some hot chocolate.
Slip in the printable Advent Calendar that holds each of the 25 Gospel-telling, Jesse Tree ornaments for the kids to colour each day of Advent.
And lay in this book that’s like it’s own larger-than-life 25 Day Advent Calendar, this Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, each of the 25 readings pointing to those 25 Gospel-telling, Jesse Tree ornaments and the full love story of Christmas, beginning right from the Genesis Creation to the Manger Coming.
And then yeah — a “Night Before Advent Box” for the adults too…
Because adults need Christmas too
So this making up boxes for the grandparents and sisters and nieces and best friends too… with The Greatest Gift and the heirloom ornaments and yeah, sure, pajamas for the big kids too. Because the story of Christ is simple enough both for children to unwrap it and powerful enough for adults to be undone by it — and be completely remade.
Grab the tape so we can tape up that simple printable Advent calendar carrying those ornaments that will have us Unwrapping all of the the Greatest Gift each night of Advent.
Lay out this whole grand hot chocolate party station with all the welcome and signage and finery — because, sure, who of us doesn’t need to be warmed straight through with His Love? Who doesn’t need to unwrap Light?
Who doesn’t want the excitement again of unwrapping the Greatest Gift — and that’s what we’ll do in the dark — we’ll make a night of it. We’ll make space for the Light in this. We’ll make a whole wondrous season of it.
Because we’re making a whole life out of this — out of Him.
And then there’s taking that pen and scratching it down, a poem — “A Night Before Advent” — that’s this crazy take on the “Night Before Christmas,” a quirky old tradition that could become it’s own new tradition of Light for us to pass down to our own kids —
and to the child in us ….
still seeking the wonder of Christmas even for us….
And that little poem with a light of its own, gets folded into the boxes too —
Yeah, let the snow keep falling if it wants.
Let the clock tick time brave into the night.
Let the stars shimmer defiant hope over everywhere that’s dark.
The Lord knows we all need it —
Let this be a Christmas full of His Light, a Christmas full of Meaning, because The Perfect Christmas Gift has Meaning.
Because the Light, it can’t be stopped and it won’t be stopped —
In through the broken-hearted cracks of the world, in through all our shards —
even now, the light comes in like a benediction.
The Light always Coming.
Related: The Night Before Advent Tradition Free Kit
1. The Whole “Night Before Advent” Kit is free for you right here [just scroll over the photo, and then click on download]
2. The Free Printable Advent Calendar is here for you in red, or in snow blue or chalkboard black [just scroll over the photo that pops up, and then click on download]
Click over to The Greatest Christmas & check out our whole library of free printable ornaments, cards, gift tags, gifts boxes, Sticky Notes for Your Soul, Advent Calendars and more — our gift to you for The Greatest Christmas!