Anticipating Advent: The Set Time

I remember different things surrounding Christmas growing up: treat bags after the Sunday school Christmas program, waking up early Christmas morning, stockings. I know there were presents too; I can imagine the wrapped packages under the tree . . . but I have a difficult time recalling specific presents. But there is, at least, one I do remember.

I grew up in a bowling family. Saturday mornings during the school year were spent at The Plaza Bowl in Clinton, Iowa knocking down pins. The routine included renting a pair of bowling shoes and picking out a bowling ball for my scheduled two games. For a long time, it was the 8 lb. ball that I would grab from the rows of generic bowling balls, later it was the 9 lb. ball. These balls were usually black, with a blue star right above the finger holes. The extra boring ones were just black, no star. After a few years of this, I started coveting the fancy bowling balls some of the other girls had: bowling balls that had been purchased. These balls were in color, sometimes multi-colored (swirls), sometimes dotted-through-with- glitter (wow!).

One Christmas, I found under the tree, a very square (about the size square that would hold a bowling ball) and a very heavy (about the heaviness of an 8 or 9 lb. bowling ball) wrapped box. I was sure it must be a bowling ball, but I couldn’t be completely sure. I held the wrapped box. I shook it too. Bowling ball. Definitely. But, what if it wasn’t? I so desperately wanted to know. I couldn’t stand the waiting, waiting. And so . . .

I came home from school one afternoon before Christmas and broke the biggest Christmas rule ever: I unwrapped the box enough to see that it was, indeed, a beautiful, bright red, dotted-through-with-glitter bowling ball. I remember an initial thrill of excitement and then a bad, guilty feeling. Something wasn’t quite right about this.

The waiting was over. But the timing was off.

There is something about waiting. And there is something about perfect timing. Waiting for the perfect time to open a gift. Or another way of saying it: “the set time.” God made it that way. Waiting is part of our walk with Him; it has always been that way for God’s children. We are a waiting folk, aren’t we? And we get into trouble when we grow impatient with waiting for God; the Bible has lots of stories like that. We wait, we wait, we wait, but not in vain. We wait in hope for God’s perfect timing.

                    But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
Galatians 4.4-5

God’s timing is perfect. Ours is not so perfect. So wait with me.
~Danyale Tamminga

Anticipating Advent: Using What We are Given

“While they were there the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn.”
-Luke 2: 6-7

    For as long as I can remember, the manger scene has been a fixture of Christmas with my family, due in part to several of my favorite Christmas books being about the nativity, or maybe because we have acquired and inherited no less than seven nativity scenes!
Whatever the reason, the books or the decor, it has never failed to draw my attention back to the heart of the season and to remind me of the incredible reason behind Christmas.

One of my first recollections of a my favorite nativity set (one I’m sad to say we lost or broke some time ago), was using the stable portion of it to house some heavy equipment and other toys.

     This somewhat unconventional use of the nativity led my brothers and I to wonder; why shouldn’t we add to the collection?  And so we got to work at once, pooling our intellect and resources to create a project that birthed a tradition – the lego nativity.  With characters and pieces from our lego collections we pieced together the first of many lego nativities, and proudly presented it to our parents.
     Building our own nativity helped remind us that we could both participate in giving something and in using what we were given as well.  Now we can easily see that Christ has given us far more than just the worldly treasures that surround us; he has given us love, mercy, compassion and hope, starting Christmas night 2016 years ago.
~Tate Garrett
Nativity4.JPG

Anticipating Advent: God’s Perfect Gift

After opening the small collection of presents beneath our tree, Dad announced that there was one more for all of us to share. In those days many of our presents came in boxes from kind aunts or faraway friends: useful and edible gifts like socks, a box of chocolates, or a can of popcorn. But Dad said this last gift was from him and Mom. It was too big to wrap so he would have to go and get it. I was only five, but how well I remember that moment now so many years later–the dimly lit room, the shining tree, and the excitement of anticipation. In a few minutes Dad came back with the best thing we could have ever imagined: a toboggan! It was taller than Dad, with its long, beautifully polished, honey-colored wood curling at the top–the perfect sled for all of us five children to ride on at once.  At the time we lived in northern British Columbia and the snow was deep all winter.  We rushed into our warm things and then outside where Dad pulled us behind the Jeep Wagoneer up and down our driveway all that magical Christmas Eve.

The next morning my mom backed over the toboggan because it had been left behind the car. It was completely crushed, and so were we. There was no money to replace it. So that was that.

My children never like hearing this story –“it’s so sad!” But as an adult, as a parent myself with the responsibility of preparing gifts for my children, this memory is one I cherish. It is a picture to me of the gifts the Lord plans for his children and the delight he takes in our joy. And it reminds me of this truth which we are taught every year:  all the presents we give and receive at Christmastime eventually break, grow old, or lose their power to delight. But God’s perfect gift, planned from ancient times, orchestrated with perfect care, and revealed at just the right time, never breaks or grows old. That gift is Jesus.
~Hosanna Lovegren

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“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 1 Corinthians 9:15

Anticipating Advent — The Gift I Needed

The world wanted something very different than what we were given on that first Christmas day. We can no longer imagine life without that Gift, and it is only through receiving It we understand anything about the world around us.

I can’t even remember most of my Christmas gifts as a child, but I distinctly remember the year I didn’t get what I wanted. A remote controlled car. And I wanted it badly. There was never much extra money growing up in the house of a Christian school teacher so there was no reason to think that it would happen, but somehow I was convinced it was going to anyway. And when the presents made their way to the tree, there was the package. The exact size, shape, and heft of the longed for car. There was no name on the box but, of course, this was for me. I visited that box often in those days before Christmas eve.

And then it was finally time. I can’t remember if the box was handed to someone else, or if it was just an empty decoy, but I do remember feeling overwhelming betrayal. A larger box emerged from the bedroom for me. It was too big, too heavy, too everything to be that car, but I’d seen enough cleverly disguised gifts to give up hope. I instantly allowed myself to soar again to the heights of anticipation. But what emerged was an aquarium.

Years of conditioning had instilled in me a sincere desire to be thankful for whatever I got. To be that kind of kid. Years of knowing that others consistently got bigger, better, more valuable presents should have allowed me to put on a better act. This was not only the biggest gift I had ever been given, but more expensive than the car I had coveted. Yet the disappointment was so overwhelming, the anticipation had gone on so long, that I mumbled thank you, then went to my room to process a grief that should have been reserved for the loss of something more. My mom came to tell me how disappointed my father was, and I reached deep into my sixth grade self and rejoined the family. I set up the aquarium in the study and afterwards lied that I truly was delighted.

Over time I would come to love the wonder and discovery of that aquatic world as I spent countless hours developing relationships with the inhabitants. While my brother was in Vietnam we kept a map in that same study, and I would wander between the mysterious contours of an unknown place and the familiar tank. That was the year we found out my father had cancer and for the next three years until it finally claimed his life, the tank was a diversion. I fixated on every nuance of lives in the tank I was responsible for while my own life often seemed untended and unnoticed. That gift was exactly what I needed.
~Brian Vander Haak, Taipai, Taiwan