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Advent of Peace

Prince of Peace is one of the names given in Isaiah for the coming Messiah. Thanks to Handel’s oratorio, many of us know that verse by heart:


The Prince of Peace. Prince as in: chieftain, chief, ruler, official, captain, prince. He has authority. He rules. He is the last word. Strong’s shows the translation of peace is shalom. Shalom is peace, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s defined as completeness, soundness, and welfare. It means prosperity, tranquility, and “contentment with God, especially in covenant.” So you put those together and He is the one who has authority and dominion over our completeness. He is the chieftain, the protector of our peace.

But like the rulers of the day, who had a hard time seeing that Jesus was the Messiah–because he didn’t look like they thought he should–this chieftain of peace looks a bit different than what we think he should, or even, admittedly, what I want him to look like. He told his disciples before he died that his peace was different:

  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;

not as the world gives do I give to you;

Do not let your heart be troubled,

nor let it be fearful.”

But the key to this verse lies in the verse before, John 14:26:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,

whom the Father will send in My name,

He will teach you all things,

and bring to your remembrance

all that I said to you.”

Jesus is telling them, “You will have peace, because the Father is sending the Helper/Comforter/ Advocate/Counselor to you, not to walk beside you, but to live in you. Not to bring absence of conflict, but to bring contentment in your covenant with God, to be the Keeper and Lord over the shalom within you. To steward the everlasting peace that comes from Me, not as fleeting as any peace the world tries desperately to find or manufacture.  Tranquility that allows sleep through a storm in a rickety fishing boat. Peace that passes understanding, that you will only understand in glimpses and moments, that will surprise you with its depth when you encounter it in moments of great external strife or battle, and when the deceiver tries to steal, kill, and destroy.” Shalom always comes in the presence of the Prince.

From the first time the people of this world heard the Messiah came, a bunch of ragtag shepherds in the middle of the night:

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

         ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”

The Deliverer had come, not with a sword to force peace on an unwilling, fearful people, but as a frail human, God in baby-fine skin and enrobed in swaddling clothes in a stable, gazed at with awe, love, and devotion. And Jesus’ words to his disciples 33 years later, are an echo of those the angels told the shepherds: “Don’t be afraid, peace has come.”



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Advent: an Invitation

Setting up the Advent wreath

Setting up the Advent wreath

It is one of my favorite times of year. I love Advent. Love. It. I love the oldness and the newness of it. The five candles in church. The ring of 24 candles at home. The Jesse Tree of printed ornaments that became the tree of homemade ornaments. The devotionals. The quiet time. The hymns. The Advent Book. All of it. Even the wiggly children, the songs sung off-key or with a nose flute or djembe, the arguments about who gets to light the candles and snuff them out. The dripped wax, smoky snuffer, candles burning out before the 24 days are over and having to be replaced. (Just keeping it real, people.)

The year the candles had a mind of their own...

The year the candles had a mind of their own…

This is an invitation to Advent. Make it look like you want. Go on Pinterest. Go to Michael’s. Go to the Catholic Bookstore. Make your own wreath or candle set. Or buy them. Find an online free download. Buy a book. Just read the Bible. But this year…between the parties and the presents, the family get togethers, the caroling, the trimming, the baking, the shopping…come and and be quiet and “Be still and know I AM.” There’s no better time to get to know Him.DSCN6431

Here is, really, one of my very favorite songs for Advent. I wish I could link it better, but click and listen to Jennifer Martin’s “O Come Be Born Again.” You can even download a free mp3. Here are the lyrics:

Baby born in Bethlehem
Come be born in me again
Since You don’t mind dirty stables
Here’s my heart not fit or able
To receive such majesty
Still, You humbly come to me

O come, O come
O come, O come, be born again

Chosen One who chose to be
Suff’ring Savior, Servant King
Since You don’t despise the broken
Here’s my life laid bare and open
To receive Your mercy
As Your Spirit calls to me

And all who struggle, all who sin
Come and become born again
Come and lay your heavy burdens
At the cross where alls forgiven
At His feet new life begins
Come, O sinner and enter in

O come, O come
O come, O come, be born again

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Intentional Holidays: Celebrating Advent

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;

Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

For me, Advent is this verse, Isaiah 40:3–clearing the way for the Lord, smoothing the highway in the desert. In a season that is often over-commercialized, hyped beyond anyone’s expectations, this is it. Clearing a way for Him. Smoothing the desert or wasteland of the world. Loving Him. Preparing myself for His coming.

My children look forward to this every year. It’s a big deal at our house. Last week I heard them discussing who was going to get to open the last door of The Advent Book on Christmas morning, trying to remember who got to do it the last previous years.  We started a long time ago, when we only had one child. My brother-in-law, who is a preacher, was astonished to hear my two-year old recite from memory almost the entire account of the birth of Christ. When you hear it everyday, a little at a time, it is hidden in your heart.Caleb and the Advent wreath

We started simply. A prayer, a Christmas carol (just one a week with wee ones), four candles, and a book. That was it. For a two-year old, that’s all we needed and it was a good place to start. We had pink, purple and white candles as some wreaths traditionally use, but we didn’t really even talk about the symbolism of the candles. Just the candles, a song and the story. That’s all you really need. We moved up to a circular wreath a few years later. Just plain and wooden and I decorated it with greenery and ribbon. The candles made a lovely spiral by the end of the month. A few years ago I received one of Ann Voskamp’s son’s Cradle to Cross wreaths that we use during Advent and Lent as well. I love it. Very simple, with Mary on a donkey circling her way around. It all culminates on Christmas morning. After we open our stockings and have breakfast, we light the wreath, sing, and open the book for the last time. Because this door is only opened once, it seems even more exciting to our kids. It’s a beautiful way to usher in Christmas!DSCN1227

We still use The Advent Book. In addition, after Advent, we read other books as well. Jotham’s Journey was exciting to read, as well as the sequels in following years. It’s a story of a boy who ends up in Bethlehem and witnesses what happened there. There are all kinds of stories you can read to add another layer to Advent. One of my favorites is an anthology of stories and poems, A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems edited by James Charlton. The book belonged to my great-grandfather, and I love to sit down with a cup of tea and a candle and dive in. It seems to be out of print, but you can get them, starting at a penny on Amazon. I have a link in my Amazon store, along with lots of other lovely books.DSCN1243

Some of my fondest memories of my children’s childhood is Advent. They aren’t perfect.  There’s been arguing about who gets to light the candles, pick the song, turn the page (I have 4 kids!). There’s been wiggly babies and toddlers, sick kids, you name it, it’s happened. But it’s worth doing. Start to think now about Advent and what you want to make it in your home.

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Preparing for Advent–Jesse Tree ornament ideas

The inside of the scroll--Psalm 119:105 (the scripture for that day) in English and Hebrew

The inside of the scroll–Psalm 119:105 (the scripture for that day) in English and Hebrew

Last week I posted about Advent–the books we use, candles, etc.–and I touched on our Jesse Tree. This week I have pictures of all our ornaments. There are so many creative blogs with ideas. I’d love to make more, but I really love the ornaments I have! My friend Stacy has collected enough ornaments to give each child a set when they grow up and leave home. Isn’t that a great idea? As I told you last week, five of us participated in an ornament exchange for the Jesse Tree, so we each made 5 copies of 5 different ornaments, then got together and traded. What a fun time that was! This would be a fun activity for a community group or women’s Bible study to do. We used The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas by Dean Lambert Smith for a list of  what ornaments to make. Other than that, it was up to each person’s creativity and inspiration to decide what the ornaments would look like. Notice some of these ornaments were purchased pre-made. Works for me. No craft police coming to get you–the point is to have something to remind you of the story. One thing I would suggest, is perhaps talk about the size of the ornaments beforehand. The tree I used last year was maybe 18-24 inches tall, so I made my ornaments sized for that sized tree–pretty small. Some of the ornaments were MUCH bigger. I really like the size of their ornaments better, and I got a tree on clearance that is the perfect size for all the ornaments this year without turning over my teeny tiny Charlie Brown tree. Here are the ornaments in groups of 5, in a semblance of the correct order, but you’ll have to guess the story each represents, or get the book:)

Days 1-5

Days 6-10

Days 11-15

Days 16-20

Days 21-25

Aren’t these fun? Here’s a link to my Amazon store that includes The Advent Jesse Tree, our other Advent book, and several other resources we use during the Advent Season. Here are some links to some other ideas (some I used!) for ornaments:

  • The Domestic Notebook– she has so many posts I linked you to the “results” page of my search on her blog-she used the same book we did
  • Reasons for Chocolate–this gives examples of a large group ornament party
  • Pinewood Castle–this is a family’s ornaments they made–some of the ornaments are different as they used a different resource

The point is not to stress over the ornaments or the tree or even the devotional. I’ve used my kids’ beginner’s Bible and simply read the stories that correspond to the devotional. Ann Voskamp’s Advent Jesse Tree devotional with ornaments to print out is FREE. The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Lambert Smith is another lovely book that has devotionals for both older and younger children. You can’t get any more beautiful words or pictures for this season. The point is to remember what God has done and is doing in the history of mankind–and then thank Him for it. Marvel at His deeds and treasure them in your heart. Over and over God tells the people to remember what He has done. The Jesse Tree provides a path through history, showing God’s faithfulness to all generations. Remember with your family. Praise the Lord for His amazing, extraordinary gift of His son. Sow the seeds of gratitude deep into your family’s heart.



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Preparing for Advent, part one

So Advent doesn’t start for a few weeks, but it’s a good time to start getting ready and making some decisions. No point waiting til the last minute and getting all flustered.:) We started celebrating Advent when Happy Girl was probably two years old. The book we use nightly is called The Advent Book. It’s beautiful. The illustrations are captivating, both of the doors and the pictures of the Christmas story. I remember how amazed my brother-in-law was, listening to Emily quote almost the entire story by memory, because she’d heard it repeated every night, in small bites.

There are many different ways to celebrate Advent, many books you can use, different Advent wreaths to make–use four candles with different colors, or a wreath with a new candle for each night. We’ve used several over the years. The one we have now is a cradle to cross wreath we also use for Lent and Pentecost. Pick what you want to try–there’s nothing that says you can’t tweak it or totally change it for next year. One thing we have added is a Jesse Tree. While we read The Advent Book at night, we do Bible readings and add an ornament to the Jesse Tree in the morning. While The Advent Book starts with the Angel’s visit to Mary, our Jesse Tree starts with creation and traces the story of Jesus from creation, through Abraham, David, etc. We have used Ann Voskamp’s free printable devotional that comes with beautiful pictures to print and use.

Last year I participated in a Jesse Tree ornament swap that my friend Stacy organized. Five of us chose 5 ornaments each to make from the list used by her Jesse Tree book and made 5 copies of each of our ornaments. Then the day of the exchange, we’ got one of each of the 25 ornaments to use on our Jesse Tree with our family. Here is the list of ornaments we made (in no order): globe, apple with snake, a camel with tent, lamb, ladder, colorful coat, tablet with ten numbers, cluster of grapes, sheaf of wheat, slingshot, scroll, stump with fresh shoot, a lion with lamb, a dove with crown, a lamb with a staff, cross, heart with writing on it, Bethlehem silhouette with star, fiery furnace, brick wall, a start, a candle or lamp, angel, and baby in straw. I found The Domestic Notebook blog that had nice ideas for Jesse Tree ornaments if you’d like to check it out.

I  enjoyed coming up with ornaments for each of my days. I chose “an apple with snake” for my first ornament. I found some small, flat, wooden cutouts in the shape of apples. I  painted them to look like apples, then added a snake with 3 dimensional paint. I sealed them, glued them on a flat plaque and drilled a small hole for ribbons to hang them on the tree. Happily the cutouts were on clearance (19 cents a piece!) at Michael’s, and I already had the paint, so it was not expensive, but it was fun!

The cross cutouts and ovals were also on clearance and I painted them the same way.

I also bought a bunch of wheat using a 40% off coupon at Michael’s . I tied five heads with ribbon, but the heads are so heavy, every time I  attached another ribbon to use to tie the wheat to the tree, it turned upside down. We just laid it among the branches instead of hanging it.

I’ll keep posting Jesse Tree ornament ideas over the next week or two so you can make some ornaments too! If you haven’t tried Advent with your family I highly suggest it. Find an Advent book or Jesse tree book and make a plan now. It doesn’t have to be complicated–light a candle, read the story and wonder at the love of God–wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger–that turned the world upside down.

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On the Coming of Perfection and the Lack of it Here

This season of Advent is as never picture perfect as any other in our home. I believe Ann Voskamp reminds us in her book that our goal is praising God, not perfection. We’ve certainly fit that bill at our house, but that’s OK.

We’ve had a pretty nasty cold going around our house for the last week. My two youngest were sniffing and coughing away, ping-ponging back and forth the hacking cough, punctuated by their father reminding them to cough in their elbows, not in his face, while my oldest daughter took her turn reading The Advent Book. She just got her braces off, and the retainer was too loose, so she sounded like a little old lady with a cold and slipping dentures. “Josheph (cough, cough)wash to name (sniff)the baby Jeshush, (please cough in your elbow) becaush he would shave hish (cough, cough)people from their shins …” You get the idea. But the candles burned brightly in the darkness, and the little ones peered at the pictures behind the doors, and we remembered.

Now, if your Advent has been more put together than this, rejoice. If (like us), the Jesse Tree you got on clearance at Target three years ago is already covered with ornaments and you can’t figure out where to put 12 more; if your kids nearly melt your tablecloth with the candle snuffer every night; if your preschooler thinks on Night 12 of Advent, your song should be the 12 days of Christmas instead of Away in a Manger, you’re in good company. If you’re gazing at your 14 year-old fake tree that loses more needles than a live tree, wondering how to make it lean a little less than it has for the past 4 years, and you notice a platoon of plastic army men have invaded and taken up defensive positions (does someone really want to steal all the paper plate angels my kids have made over the years?), take heart. If the children are leading worship on the stage at church, and your child is the one with the unscheduled potty break right in the middle, and the other child throws both his scarves off the stage in glee (yep, both mine), relax.

Do you really think the sometimes stressful attempts at perfection we adults try to create in worship at Christmas or Advent are any more enjoyable to the Father? I can’t really answer that since I haven’t asked Him personally, but we do have record of what Jesus told the Pharisees who were offended by the children praising God. I have no doubt that some of those wee ones were wacking each other on the head with the palm branches while they waited for Jesus to pass, but when He did and they cried “Hosanna, son of David” the Pharisees demanded to know if Jesus heard them. “Yes, have you never read “Out of the mouths of children and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?” I suspect that no matter how perfect we make our worship appear , the Father, Son and Holy Spirit indulgently smile at our childishly crude, though heartfelt attempts to shower them with our love. It’s the heart of the worshipper that matters much more that the trappings we can get so absorbed in getting just right.

So sit back and relax, and enjoy this time with your kids. You don’t have to make it look perfect or be perfect. That’s the whole point of His coming, right? Because we can never be perfect by ourselves.  We can never be good enough to even stand in the presence of the Father, so He sent His Son as our perfect offering of salvation. So the pressure is off for a perfect Christmas–it already happened and we simply can’t improve on that.

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Jesse Tree Ornaments Part Two

I finally got to meet with my friend Stacy and one of her three other friends who participated in the Jesse Tree Ornament Exchange. It was so much fun to see how amazingly creative everyone is. If I do this again I will probably get clarification first about the size of the ornaments. Our Jesse Tree is about 18-24 inches tall. We bring it to the table every morning with our basket of Jesse Tree Ornaments and over breakfast, read the Jesse Tree Devotional of the day, and put the ornament of the day on the tree. Obviously, as you will see in the pictures, some people’s trees are larger than mine. Other than the sheaf of wheat I made, all my other ornaments are around two inches high or less. Not so the case with the adorable camel in the tent for the story of Abraham. It’s big enough that it needed its own photo. :). I guess that means I get to buy a new, taller tree on clearance after Christmas. 🙂

Days one through three: the earth, an apple and snake, the ark and rainbow

The adorable camel in a tent for Abram and his visitors

Days five through eight--a lanb, a ladder, a colorful coat and a tablet with ten numbers

Days 9 through twelve--a cluster of grapes, a sheaf of wheat and a sling shot

Days twelve through fourteen--a scroll, a stump with a fresh shoot, and a lion and lamb

The inside of the scroll--Psalm 119:105 (the scripture for that day) in English and Hebrew

Days fifteen through seventeen--A dove with a crown, a lamb and a staff, and a cross

Days eighteen through twenty--a heart with writing, Bethlehem silhouette, a fiery furnace

Days twenty-one through twenty-three--a brick wall, a star and a candle

Now, I’ve seen many kinds of Jesse Trees, so don’t despair if you don’t have an evergreen. My friend has hers hanging down off the mantle of her fireplace from a rope. You can use a bare branch from outside, stuck firmly in a pot. Hang them off a thin dowel on the wall if you want. The point is not to stress over the ornaments or the tree or even the devotional. I’ve used my kids’ beginner’s Bible and simply read the stories that correspond to the devotional. Ann Voskamp’s Advent Jesse Tree devotional with ornaments to print out is FREE. The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Lambert Smith is another lovely book that has devotionals for both older and younger children. You can’t get any more beautiful words or pictures for this season.

The point is to remember what God has done and is doing in the history of mankind–and then thank Him for it. Marvel at His deeds and treasure them in your heart. Over and over God tells the people to remember what He has done. The Jesse Tree provides a path through history, showing God’s faithfulness to all generations. Remember with your family. Praise the Lord for His amazing, extraordinary gift of His son. Sow the seeds of gratitude deep into your family’s heart. It’s not too late to get started!


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