Seize the Season

Three Ways Fathers Capture Advent

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Staff Development, Campus Outreach

Fathers, I have a confession: I get “the feels” around all things Christmas. Listening to nonstop holiday music (after Thanksgiving, of course), the sight of a tree on a car, exterior illumination that would make Clark Griswold proud, the smell of evergreen — I love it all. I don’t need Andy Williams to tell me, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but I sure can’t wait until he does!

If you don’t relate to this confession, though, don’t worry. I’ve got another one: on multiple occasions, I’ve arrived at Christmas morning feeling that it snuck up on me. This moment of recognition usually happens in the middle of our Christmas Eve service, when I glance around and see my wife and our five kids joyfully singing praises to “Christ, the newborn King,” or listening intently to the story of Jesus’s birth. On a number of years, this joyful moment has been accompanied in my heart with a twinge of sadness. Another Christmas has almost passed, and yet again, it snuck up on me.

Stewards of Hearts

I’m aware that these two confessions may sound contradictory. On the one hand, as a man who’s a kid at heart, I eagerly anticipate and count down the arrival of the holiday season. On the other hand, as a father who’s a steward of hearts, I have a tendency to arrive at the end of the holiday season and feel like I wasn’t ready for it — and now it’s gone.

I’ve heard quite a few fathers say that their daughter’s wedding day snuck up on them. They don’t mean they didn’t see it coming or were surprised by its arrival. No, it snuck up because the many things they needed to do (host family, write toasts, pay invoices, and much more) distracted them from the one thing they were honored to be: “Daddy.” In short, the significance of what they were a part of was lost on them until it had passed. Even if they were present in the moment, they were not prepared to win the moment.

This illustration has helped put words to the sadness that I’ve felt at the end of too many holiday seasons (and I don’t think I’m alone). If we are not mindful on the front end, the many things we “need” to do this December will distract us from the one thing we need to be: children of our good and generous God. And if we fathers personally neglect the significance of the Advent season, it’s unlikely we will lead our families any differently.

Fathers, let’s do more this year than be physically present; let’s get spiritually prepared to lead our family to win the moments. If you’re inspired to join me but don’t know where to begin, I’d like to offer three practices that have consistently enabled our family to win the holiday season, moment by moment.

1. Create Devotional Moments

The first practice is to create devotional moments. By “devotional moments,” I’m talking specifically about creating time for the family to gather and hear God’s word together.

Before I share what my wife and I have found helpful, let me make sure you are picturing our family correctly. Imagine a quiet and orderly group of serious, scholarly believers, gathered together to eagerly learn from the Scriptures. Got those people in mind? Now picture the opposite of that group. That’s our family. There are seven of us, and for some reason just saying the words “family devotion” produces an effect like drinking a Red Bull, where everyone “gets wings.” Even the dogs get in on the madness.

But while family devotions aren’t always easy and can go south quickly, we’ve discovered that a little planning and perspective can set us up for success. Years ago, we set it as our goal to create family devotional times that were fun, engaging, and memorable. We observed that many kids leave Christian homes feeling that the Scriptures are boring, irrelevant, and hard to understand. Not only do our three goals counter these, but they can create a learning environment that kids might even look forward to. As a father, I consider it a huge win anytime I can spark in my children an eagerness, or even an openness, for the living and active word of God (Hebrews 4:12).

“Fathers, do what it takes to carve out some planning time on the front end of the holidays (now!).”

During the holidays, we try to gather at least two times a week for family devotions. For us, family-devotion topics typically emerge as my wife and I share with each other what we are learning in our respective Advent devotionals. If we have any “secret sauce” to share, however, it’s what we do next. Julia and I then spend a few minutes brainstorming about three things: teaser, takeaway, and treasure hunt. (The more you do this, the better you get at it.)

The teaser starts our family devotions. We tee up our time with a fun question that gets everyone talking and points toward the message. The takeaway is the one big idea from Scripture that we want the family to walk away with. A concise takeaway focuses the devotion and gives the family language to rally around. Last, the treasure hunt is when things really get fun. Prior to the family devotion, we secure some sort of holiday treat (like a family game, a dessert to make, a holiday movie) and hide it somewhere in the house. Here’s the catch: the treat is hidden somewhere that is connected to something from the devotional. The one rule about the treasure hunt is that all the kids have to discuss and hunt together.

I hope you can envision how powerful it can be to create family devotional moments that are fun, engaging, and memorable.

2. Capitalize on Seasonal Moments

The second practice is to capitalize on seasonal moments. Unless you live on Mount Crumpit, others in your area have already put together holiday events that can provide your family with memorable moments. If setting aside time to pray and think creatively is the key to the first practice, this second one hinges on the willingness to do a little calendar coordination. In all likelihood, your area schools will have holiday programs, churches will host Christmas concerts, community theaters will produce shows, and the city at large will plan a slew of seasonal events. It’s all there, simply waiting to be leveraged by those who will take some time now to look ahead and make a few decisions.

For years, we had the same experience over and over: I would find the greatest holiday events for the family to enjoy — and we wouldn’t ever go. Before you think I live with a bunch of hermits, I should add that I would find these events the day of the show, and either the tickets would be sold out or someone in the family had other plans. Bah humbug!

My wife had been telling me about this thing called “planning” that adults sometimes do, and when I finally applied it to the holiday season it was a game changer. At the start of the Christmas season, we take some time to identify important moments for each family member (so we can all plan to attend), as well as a few special holiday events. (By the way, news of a special seasonal event makes a great treasure hunt discovery after an enjoyable family devotion!)

3. Copy Memorable Moments

Last, I would encourage you to copy memorable moments year after year. It doesn’t take long in life to realize that change is inevitable — and navigating through a world of constant change can lead to a feeling of instability, especially among children. As a father, I long for my children to know they have a God who is “the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6) and one who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). As we teach these truths, we can also seek to create a home environment that models it. We have leaned on our family traditions as a way to provide a sense of constancy in an ever-changing world.

What are your family traditions that you copy year after year? Our holiday season is full of memorable and repeatable moments that provide an anchor for our family. We have traditions that are unique to us (“elf knock,” holiday game night after devotions, ham-and-steak holiday meal, stockings hid on Christmas morning, sibling gift exchange before Christmas) as well as some that I imagine many families do (family pajamas on Christmas Eve, birthday cake for Jesus, reading Luke 2 and praying together before opening gifts). To quote my good friend Cousin Eddie, a meaningful family tradition is “a gift that keeps on giving” year after year.

Seize the Season

The prophet Isaiah provides much-needed wisdom for what it’s going to take to see these ideas become a reality: “He who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isaiah 32:8). Fathers, do what it takes to carve out some planning time on the front end of the holidays (now!). Get a plan for creating devotional moments, coordinate how you will capitalize on seasonal moments, and identify the memorable moments to copy year after year.

For those who apply these three simple practices, I am confident that you will look at your family on Christmas Eve with a whole lot of gladness and very little sadness. For this holiday season came, and you were ready for it.

(@MattBradner) is a husband, father of five, and staff member with Campus Outreach. Matt serves on the East Coast development team and primarily focuses on the spiritual and relational health of the staff.