Honestly, in the middle of days like these, you can’t fault anybody for just wanting a tree.
Only two days now from Advent, and I wake up with these memories of my kid sister …
My sister, she couldn’t have been more than 8 years old when she headed to the farm woods to hack down a scotch pine tree with a dull axe.
I’d gone with her 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 over snow.
And that Charlie Brown Christmas tree that we had cut down in the farm woods tilted real bad and 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 kinda masked the scent of some dead mouse in the vicinity of the kitchen.
Us kids? We had just desperately needed a tree. Sometimes the only way to stay standing is to lash yourself to someOne stronger.
Us kids, we had just needed to string up some light in all the dark.
And more than gifts, us kids had really 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.
I wish we’d known that long ago eve: A shattered world only limps into light, leaning on a sure faith.
We’re on the cusp of the tradition of Advent — and this changes the conditions of everything: He is coming.
Because in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of all kind of uncertainty, at the end of a year of a whole lot of hurt, it’s like the whole world’s whispering: We’re waiting for You, Lord.
Standing there at the prayer table, it only takes me a minute to simply light a candle.
“We make ready for Him, this Advent season and every season, by lighting whatever little lights the Lord has put in front of us, no light too small to be used by Him, action in waiting, pointing ahead, looking to Christ and for Christ,” writes Fleming Rutledge.
“Even our smallest lights will be signs in this world, lights to show the way, beachheads to hold against the Enemy until the day when the great Conqueror lands with Michael the archangel at the head of his troops, the day that shall dawn upon us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78–79).” ~Fleming Rutledge
The light from my candle 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 is so glorious you can’t just unwrap it in a day or two, but you have to unwrap it over a whole season —-
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.
“When . . . any one of us . . . looks up to Him, to Jesus Christ, a momentous change takes place. . . . A great and enduring light brightly dawns on such a person. . . .,” writes the great theologian, Karl Barth.
“Such a person experiences joy in the midst of his sorrows and sufferings, much as he still may sigh and grumble. Not a cheap and superficial joy that passes, but deep-seated, lasting joy. It transforms man in his sadness into a fundamentally joyful being. We may as well admit it; he has got something to laugh at . . . not a mockery, but an open and relaxing laughter . . . honest and sincere laughter, coming from the bottom of man’s heart. Such light and joy and laughter are ours when we look up to Him, to Jesus Christ. He is the one who makes us radiant.” ~Karl Barth
My kid sister, she grew up, and she tells me this in a year with all kinds of loss and dark and grief: “Words are light — His Word is Light.”
And I nod:
So we will Stay in the Story.
No matter what’s happening in the world — we will Stay in the Story. His Story. “He is the One who makes us radiant.”
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. We will stay rooted in Him and the Tree we all desperately need.
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.
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.
Every page unfolding the Greatest Love Story Ever Told —- and it’s a Love Story all for you! —– every page whispering: He’s Coming, the Light is coming, and He’s giving us the saving Tree we need!
“…He is deeply moved by our need of Him,” assures Karl Barth.
“Is this perhaps the casualness and condescension of a great ruler, occasionally bending down to the man in the street? Not in the least. He takes our place and surrenders Himself for us, thereby binding Himself to us and compromising Himself once for all. He is the God of Christmas of whom we sing: “A tiny child and poor He came, To give us mercy’s blessing.” This is the height and depth, the ultimate and eternal power and glory of the almighty Lord; He has mercy on us.” (~Karl Barth)
And then yeah — a “Night Before Advent Box” for the adults too…
Because adults need Christmas too, need Him too, need to know the wonder of Him and His mercy again for us too.
So this making up boxes for the grandparents and sisters and nieces and best friends too… with The Greatest Gift 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.
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’s put up the tree and let the lights, all the stars, shimmer defiant hope over everywhere that’s dark.
Advent is the last, darkest hour of the year, and this is the season not to merely get ready for Christmas, but to get ready for the coming of Christ.
Advent doesn’t deny the dark within us, Advent isn’t afraid of the dark around us, Advent doesn’t rush through the dark ahead of us, Advent sits in the dark and yearns for the Light of the only One who went to the Tree of Calvary, to shatter the dark for all of us.
Advent is waiting for the One true Light — otherwise, what we proclaim is light is actually dark, and that is a weight no soul can bear.
Advent says the fault is not in our stars– the fault is in how we walk in the dark and call it light.
In all these days of uncertainty, Advent is trusting in His certain coming, and coming again:
Christ comes uninvited to the woman who feels all wrong and He whispers that He makes all things right,
Christ comes uninvited to the prodigal running hard and fast and He binds His heart fast to theirs,
Christ comes uninvited into the hopelessness of our darkest places and turns on the light — because He turns our hearts to Him.
Because the Light, it can’t be stopped, and it won’t be stopped — and in through the broken-hearted cracks of the world, in through all our shards —
even now, on the nights before Advent, the light comes in like a benediction.
The Light always surely coming through His rescuing Tree.
And we all get to begin together on December 1!
So come Christmas morning — you’ve unwrapped the greatest gift you yearn for — more of Him.
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]
4. Only 2 Days till Advent & we open the pages of these books like an Advent Calendar & begin: The Greatest Gift (adult edition) and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (family read aloud edition)
annnnd? The Wonder of the Greatest Gift (pop-up edition with your own 14 inch tree, 25 days of readings, 25 day advent flap calendar, hiding all 25 Biblically inspired ornaments! For any age)
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!
Having trouble finding all of the free Christmas printables mentioned here? They are super easy to find right here under ‘Free Tools’
Gather around the Greatest Story this year for the whole family with all 3?
This is the year: See you over at The Greatest Christmas