Teaching preschoolers about the birth of Jesus

Imperfect Gifts During Advent

My sister paused mid-rip of the wrapping paper, the package beneath not yet fully exposed. “What’s that smell?”

We all took a sniff. Nothing seemed amiss in the cozy living room—the tree sparkled, tall and proud, and piles of packages in various states of unwrap sat at our feet.

“There’s not a smell,” my mom responded, waving her hand dismissively. “Go on! Open it!”

My sister did as she was told, revealing a vibrant purple flip-phone (complete with T-9 texting and paid access to the internet). Her shrieks of glee must have alarmed the neighbors. I eyed my own pile of presents, looking for a present the same shape as the one my sister had just opened. Just as I turned to see if there were any presents left behind the plush armchair I was sitting in, a bright flash from the nearby dining room caught my eye.

“FIRE!” I yelped. “The table is ON FIRE!” My octave rose to top my sister’s.

I jumped up gesturing wildly, a flurry of wrapping paper and curly ribbon cascading from my lap.

Earlier that Christmas Eve, my family sat around the dining room table lighting the candles of our advent wreath. As we lit the one in the middle—the candle representing Jesus—we sang “Away in a Manger,” our four voices mingling in a humble harmony. Then we held hands to pray and thank our Lord for his Son. When our family devotion was done, my dad moved to blow out the candles.

“Wait,” I made him pause. “We have to wait so long for them all to be lit. Can we leave them? They’re so pretty.”

My dad obliged with a smile and we retired to the adjacent living room. But as the gift opening proceeded, we forgot the shimmering candles… until one burned just low enough for the flame to catch a sprig of faux holly.

Chaos erupted. My mom shrieked my dad’s name repeatedly while my sister and I jumped up on my armchair, clutching each other, sure the fire would spread to the floor any second. Fast action on my dad’s part (with no help at all from the women) squelched the fire before the table incurred permanent damage.

Decades later, I am in a different living room equally full of mayhem. My five year old throws herself on the couch with the showmanship of a Shakespearean actor. Her opinion is that life simply isn’t fair, and she is making her displeasure loudly known. My four-year-old finds this game hilarious and eggs her on. He laughs at her antics and joins in the howling. The baby—less amused by his sister’s high-pitched whining—speed crawls to my feet and lifts his arms, crying for me to pick him up.

We just got home from an evening at church with our small group.

All my children have been asked to do is put away their coats and gather on the couch so we can do our daily advent time as a family.

The devotion is quite literally three sentences long and ends with a cute ornament to put on the tree for the day. (I specifically picked this advent kit because it felt like a reasonable amount to do with small children, and yet here we are.)

The ruckus grows as my husband and I try to move each child toward obedience—it feels like herding feral cats. Our eyes meet for a second and I’m sure my husband can read my thoughts. “This is what I get for trying to do something nice as a family.”

Maybe it is the Christmas tree in the same corner, or maybe it is the volume of the yelling; I am suddenly transported to the night in my childhood when the dining table set on fire—a memory I haven’t thought of for years. Of course I’ve remembered the first part, my dad playing the guitar while we sang.

It was a Hallmark-esque moment that set the standard for my expectations of advent with my own family. Now a smile spreads across my face as I remember the rest of the story, causing my husband to raise an eyebrow.

Even our best impression of Hallmark family moments can end in literal flames.

I always thought devoting ourselves to the advent season should be calm, peaceful, and idyllic. Isn’t that the picture we always see of the nativity—a warm glow cascading over the lovely scene?

I think the reality of Jesus’ arrival was a bit grittier than we like to imagine, though. We tend to forget the bitter cold, the pungent smell of damp and animal, the labor pains, and the complete societal isolation that were also present in the scene.

It reminds me that true advent—the act of hospitality, of making room in our hearts for Jesus—is not only contained within the pretty and palatable. If the dingy stable could play host to the Son of Man, then so can my chaotic living room with my overtired children.

So what can it look like to “prepare Him room” when young children are taking up every iota of bandwidth in our lives? What about when our calendars look like decorated Christmas trees—colorful dots announcing each seasonal event we need to attend (with fresh baked cookies in hand!)?

How do we cut through the chaos and shift our posture to be one of gazing upon the manger?

I think the key was there when my family’s fateful advent wreath caught fire; Allow imperfect devotion.

I desperately long to have an hour of quiet time in the morning before my kids wake up. I want to soak in the Word, basking in the new mercies of the day, watching the sun rise through my favorite window. I want to pray at home the way we do in my Moms in Prayer group, spending measured time on praise, confession, thanksgiving, and intercession.

I set my alarm each night, hoping I will wake up feeling truly rested (for the first time in six years). Most mornings I curse the optimistic bedtime version of myself. In this very physically demanding part of parenthood, dragging myself downstairs to my favorite chair to open my Bible can feel like climbing a mountain.

Even when I do make it, tiredness claws at me the entire time. My bleary eyes read the same passage three times. My prayers trail off, thoughts straying to the demands of the day. Are we out of diapers? Are we the snack leaders this week? Did I remember to call my mother in law back? And before I can get back on track, the baby has woken up early and I return my Bible to the basket, discouraged.

What I am longing for—especially at Christmastime—is to feast on the word. Instead, what I come up with most days is a handful of crumbs.

But Jesus made much of crumbs, didn’t he? He took a couple loaves and fed a massive crowd. He chose the fishermen and the tax collector to be in his inner circle. Time and time again, Jesus picked what appeared to be a laughably ill-equipped person and used them for the glory of his Father.

In the name of Jesus, the measly offerings we have for God become a sweet aroma:
  • This Christmas we can bring him the gift of our attention, even when it splinters.
  • We can commune with him in prayer, even when our thoughts trail off.
  • We can do our best to be still in his presence, even when a baby will inevitably need to be rocked and a nose wiped.
  • The Holy Spirit can use the same passage read three times through the bleary eyes of an exhausted mom to bless her family.

In his goodness, Jesus is pleased by our efforts. Because this is the Savior who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).

And you know what, friends? Our Shepherd already knows our gifts are not beautifully wrapped.

Before we were born, he held the darkest, sharpest, grimiest parts of us in his hands on the cross. He beckons us to come to him in our broken state. As we bring our fragmented offerings to Jesus, we directly model the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I have decided to cling to this verse for this year’s Christmas. Far be it from me to decide my devotion isn’t enough to bring to Jesus. I pray my children will watch me struggle to be still in his presence and see a mom listening to hear his voice. I pray through choosing to be vulnerable with my own human limits, my children will have more grace for their own.

Maybe one day they will even be the parent in a living room engulfed in pandemonium (and potentially actual flames. Wreaths are flammable, people.) May they look upon the manger and know their imperfect devotion is, truly, a beautiful gift.

Pray with me

Jesus, Thank you for coming to us in the most unexpected way. You are the vessel of all of God’s love, and yet you came to do your Father’s work completely unheralded. Then you lived a perfect life amidst the pressures and temptations of the world. Thank you for choosing to die for us and coming back from the grave with our salvation in hand. Help us to come and truly adore you this Christmas. You alone are worthy. Amen.

How do you honor Jesus during advent? Comment Below.

Moms in Prayer

Managing Christmas expectationsLindsey Norine’s goal is to remind women that they are seen, known, and deeply loved. She is married to her crush from church camp and together they have three children. Her tribe resides in central Iowa where she holds down a day job as a voice teacher and adjudicator. When not singing or playing make believe, Lindsey sneaks away to write in coffee shops. For more unvarnished stories on motherhood, follow her on Instagram @lindsnorine and visit her website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *