First Sunday in Advent: Hope and Forgiveness
By Sally Tippett Rains
NOTE: If I have any Jewish people who read my inspirational “Choose Happy” blog, I wanted to let you know that for four weeks I will be doing an Advent series. It’s not my purpose to change anyone’s views, but rather encourage people to live their happiest life in the best way they can, and for me it’s through my Christian faith. I encourage you to embrace your tradition of Hanukkah and celebrate with your family. If I continue this blog in 2021, I will see you back in January. Happy Hanukkah.
As we enter the first week of the Advent many of us are hurting– some due to illness, some due to death or missing of a loved one, some due to fear and some due to external conflicts brought on by the elections. No matter how bad things get there is always a blessing if we look had enough.
I want to encourage you that even when it sometimes seems so bleak– there is hope. Some of that hope comes from God sending us His Son to save the world. This simple thought came back to me recently when I was showing my grandsons a nativity scene and explaining it to them. Just the simple term “Savior” says it all.
That’s why there is always hope. We know He will save us. No matter how scared we get He will save us. Sometimes we are not saved in the way we want, but if we trust God, He is always there for us, and will help us through whatever happens in life.
I like to light a candle every day when I pray. It makes me focus on what I am praying for and provides warmth to the room. It also reminds me that even though Jesus is the light of the World, I am also a small light in the world. We all are. We each have a beacon that can help light someone’s way.
If we are Christians then no matter what we have done in the past, God has forgiven us. If He has done so much for us, surely we can put aside our differences — even just at Christmas– and forgive others. No matter what you are going through– don’t give up, there is so much hope for you and some of that hope comes from forgiving others. Forgiveness opens a huge space in our heart and that space can be filled with hope.
It is the First week of Advent and each week for the next four– we will focus on one of the candles on an Advent wreath: Peace, Joy, Love, Hope (and Forgiveness).
Maybe this year you could make an Advent wreath if you don’t have one. Every year I think I will make one but I end up just improvising with a small wreath and setting a few candles around it. However you do it, it just helps you focus in on what the holiday is really about.
At the end of this post, I will share a series of weekly Family Advent Devotionals I did with my family as the kids were growing up. They were just little weekly family gatherings on Sunday usually, where we cleared our minds and focused on the real reason behind the season. And newsflash: Christmas is not about the “presents” but rather than our ability to be present in the moment and take in all we have been given as we look forward to the day that commemorates the birth of our Savior.
Many of us miss our parents or other loved ones, but I won’t let that ruin Christmas. It was not “Christmas’s” fault that a person died or that we had any sort of a bad situation– but if you really “participate” in Christmas, that peaceful Christmas Spirit will fill your heart. I don’t mean just buying the presents or Christmas sweaters. I mean all aspects with LOVE being the biggest part in which we can participate. I just bought my husband and I new Christmas shirts. No parties this year so maybe no one will see them except us, but they will make us happy. We made a special candy for Rob’s sister (my sister-in-law) who recently lost her husband. They used to make the candy together and the love in our heart making it was part of “Christmas.”
We are trying to figure out how we can reach out and help people during this “Covid Christmas.” We are practicing gratitude and reading Bible verses. Oh yes, and buying and wrapping presents. It’s the “whole package” that is Christmas to me. I don’t get “ready for Christmas.” It just happens.
People say “are you ready for Christmas?” I say, “yes, it’s Christmas already.” It happens when I make time to watch the classic Christmas movies or Hallmark movies. It happens when I teach my grandsons the songs. It happens when I get coffee with mint flavoring in it or when a friend brings over scented pine cones or when I drop off canned goods for a food drive.
The purpose of this Advent portion of my Choose Happy blog is to encourage you to enjoy every minute of the holiday season. Don’t get so bogged down by all the “things” you feel like you have to do to get “ready” for Christmas. Take the time to celebrate with your family and friends the whole time.
Each Advent candle symbolizes something. One is for hope, one is for love, one is for joy and one is for peace. There is a fifth candle that is lit on Christmas to remind Christians of the light Jesus brings to the world. With all that is going on at this time of year, celebrating Advent can bring peace to Christians. We need to find the light and if we are searching for that star– we are headed in the right direction.
Each year I enjoy reading my friend, author and speaker Maria Rodgers O’Rourke’s book, “Preparing Your Heart for Christmas.” It is a nice little book with a beautiful cover that is filled daily inspiration. There are places to write about plans for the day– the physical things you need to do in your daily life, as well as ways we can prepare our hearts for the celebration fo the coming of Jesus. (To contact Maria CLICK HERE)
If you don’t have the book you can take a notebook and each day write: 1. Today I am grateful for… 2. My intentions for the day… (As an example she says, “appreciate my child’s energy, be kind to all I meet, be patient in traffic, etc.) 3. My “to do ” list for the day… For information on Maria’s special online Advent program CLICK HERE.
I always say, if you look at a Christmas tree and and you squint your eyes, it looks like every other Christmas tree and you can be transported to your childhood living room, grandma’s house, your first home…wherever you want to go!
I’m like you… extremely busy. But God is putting it on my heart to hopefully put down some words that can help us slow down even for a few minutes and enjoy this season– and realize the real reason we celebrate.
Seven years ago I decided to write an inspirational blog leading up to Christmas and I gave it the clever title of “Sally’s Christmas Blog.”— It’s still online and if you are interested you can check it out. CLICK HERE. I put a lot of fun things in it.
The crazy thing is I found something I wrote several years ago when we were on the verge of getting a new President. It had been very negative leading from one President to the next one. Yes, believe it or not this division is not new– think back to the last Presidential election. Here is what I wrote and I think it can apply today:
From Sally’s Christmas Blog Dec. 2016:
“Here are a few things I plan to do this holiday season:
I am not going to participate in all the negativity. We (will soon) have a new president and I choose to support him and see what he has in store for us, just as I supported every president elected in my lifetime. Some have disappointed me, but I’ve always given them a chance and will continue to have respect for the office of the President. I am not going to let other people’s rantings steal my joy.
I am going to look for the good in people. I’ll do the best I can to give happiness to others. If I am taken wrong, misunderstood or even disliked, I will still continue to be me. If we lose who we are, we have nothing.
I will listen more to what people say. There is too much judging in this world. A memorable line from “Grease” for me– Danny Zuko said: “Everybody has to dump on somebody! My pa gets dumped on at work, he dumps on my mother. The spics dump on us so we have to dump on the spics. Everybody’s dumping on everybody.” And this is so true today. Why you gotta dump on people? This year I will try to understand people and not judge them.
I plan to chisel out little bits of time and make them count. So what if we can’t do the things we used to do. Let’s reach out to each other in other ways. The holiday are the perfect time to let people know you care about them– gifts, cards, letters, phone calls.
“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you... yes, it's Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand." --Mother Theresa
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”– Matthew 6:14
“Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” — Desmond Tutu
One Last Thought:
Here is the Devotional I mentioned. If you want the online version: CLICK HERE
Family Advent Devotionals
This is the devotional we did with our kids every year during Advent. It was a wonderful tradition. Remember if you start early doing devotionals with your family they will continue as they grow older. Plan something nice for after the devotional such as cookies and hot chocolate or a fun game or watch a Christmas show.
Family Advent Devotionals
Tell your family what you are doing: “We are going to have a small family devotional each Sunday before Christmas to prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ.” Set up a little “scene” with five candles. you can buy Advent candles or just take some styrofoam and make your own with 5 candles. The candles don’t matter so much, if you don’t have a nice set-up, then use whatever candles you have. Each year I would sort of “re-write” these Advent devotionals so that my children could benefit from them.
I did that this year when I did it with my grandsons. One is in Kindergarten so I changed the words around so he could read it and added things. Kids really like it and it teaches them family time. They like blowing out the candles.
You can make it fun and age appropriate… check out a little snippet of what we did that my son shared on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/16801790/videos/10108306441855899/
First Sunday in Advent
Parent: This Sunday is a special day. It is the first Sunday in the Advent season. The word Advent comes from two Latin words meaning “come” and “to” so the Advent season is the time of the year when Christians begin to think of the time when Jesus “came to” earth.
It is a time for us to think of Jesus’ coming and what his coming meant to those who knew him and loved him. It is a time also to think about what Jesus’ coming means to us today. It is time to begin to prepare our hearts for him, for his birthday– for Christmas.
Child: As we think of Jesus’ coming, let us think of why he came. One reason he came was to bring God’s forgiveness. He taught that we must forgive one another as God forgives us.
Parent: One day one of Jesus’ diciplines asked him about forgiving others. The Gospel of Matthew tells us what Jesus answered: Matthew 18:21-22 (read it out loud. It’s better to get the Bible out, but here it is to save you some time. “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord if any member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you seventy-seven.”
Parent: Jesus taught that just as God continues to forgive us when we are sorry for what we have done, so we must continue to forgive others.
Child: Let us remember what Jesus taught about forgiveness. Let us light our first Advent candle to remind us that it is time to prepare our hearts for Christmas.
Light the first Advent Candle
Prayer (led by parent or older child) “Our Father, help us to prepare for Jesus’ coming by loving others and forgiving those who might hurt us. Help us always to love them. Amen.”
Parent: As we prepare our hearts for Christmas and think about the birth of Jesus Christ we sing Christmas songs. Let’s all sing, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”
Child: Now let us all go out into the world and be good Christians looking for ways to help people and finding ways to forgive those who need our forgiveness.
Second Sunday in Advent
Second Sunday In Advent
Child: Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent and on the first Sunday we light a candle to remind us of Jesus’ coming. (Go ahead and light the first candle.)
We remember that Jesus came to bring God’s Hope and Forgiveness, and teach us how to forgive.
Parent: Jesus also brought Peace to us. It is a peace that is far greater than any peace people could imagine. The Gospel of John tells us about this peace:
John 14:27 (Have a Bible handle to read, but in this case it’s “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not le them be afraid.”)
Child: Sometimes I get scared.
Adult: We all get scared or afraid, but the difference is we know that Jesus can help us if we just let him. He told us not to be afraid. He said, “Be not afraid for I am with you unto the end.”
Child: So he wants us to have peace.
Adult: Although this peace was a gift from God, it was a gift that demanded something from the one who received it. You must actually feel the peace. We may know that peace in our lives also. It is the peace we feel when we have done our best, when we have lived as Jesus taught, and when we have been helpful to others. It is the peace our world will come to know as all people learn to obey God and live together in brotherly love.
Child: Let us light our second Advent candle to remind us of the Peace Jesus brought. Leet us remember that this peace may be ours only as we work for it.
Adult: We must work to achieve that peace by believing that God will give it to us. Put your fears in God’s hands and know he will wrap his arms around you and keep you safe.
(Light the second candle)
Prayer: Our Father, help us to prepare for Jesus’ coming by doing our best, by being helpful to others and by living as Jesus taught us to live. Amen.
Child: Let’s sing “Silent Night”…it is a song about Peace.
(Either sing Silent Night as a family or listen to it on a tape.)
Adult: Let’s go out into the world with Peace in our hearts, and always remember that no matter where you are, God is with you. He sent His son Jesus Christ to live here on earth so he could learn what it is like to be human. Let’s say a family prayer together, I’ll start and then go around the room and each of you can add something. Thank you Lord for this time together as a family. We are so blessed to have each other. Thank you for sending Your son, now we will each tell you what we are thankful for…
(Go around the room. Remember, everyone is different, if you’ve never prayed before, help each person. We once had a child say “I’m thankful for my Legos” and that’s ok.)
Add songs if you would like. It’s fun to have something nice planned for after the devotional, like hot chocolate and cookies or a special Christmas Show.
Third Sunday In Advent– Joy
If you have miniature figurines of the holy family, these could be placed in front of the candles for this Sunday. If not, a picture of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, taken from a Christmas card would be fine. Children might enjoy making ‘paper dolls’ or drawing pictures for this occasion.
Child: On the first Sunday in Advent we lit a candle to remind us of God’s forgiveness which Jesus brought.
Light first candle.
Child: Last Sunday we lit our second candle to remind us of the peace of God.
Light second candle.
Parent: Today we wish to think of the joy Jesus’ birth brought. His coming was a most joyous occasion for Mary and Joseph. The Gospel of Luke tells us how happy Mary was when she learned of His coming birth: Luke 1:46-49 (best to read it from the Bible, but here it is: “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He haas looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant (meaning her). Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is His name. (She was praising God because she felt lucky that he picked a poor girl like her to be the mother of Jesus.)
Child: He not only brought joy to Mary and Joseph, but to the Hebrews who knew him, for they learned to love him, also.
Child: And there have been countless millions who have come to know and love Him since his birth. Even today as we celebrate his birthday it is a time of great joy. Let me sing one of our Christmas songs that tells of this joy!
Sing Joy To The World
Child: Let us light our third Advent candle to remind us of the joy Jesus’ coming has brought to each ofus.
Light the third candle.
Prayer: Our Father, help us prepare for Jesus’ coming by being joyful and sharing our joy with others. Amen.
Adult: What are some ways w can be joyful and share our joy? (discuss this as a family)
Child: the Lord has given us the ability to experience his joy but we must open our minds to do it. We must believe we can be joyful. We must ask God to come into our hearts and make us joyful.
Adult: Everything involving the birth of Jesus was joyful way back then. Mary was filled with great joy that she was chosen. Joseph was joyful. The wise men came with gifts. Angels came down with songs. Today people can forget the true meaning of Christmas and get overcome with the buying of gifts and getting ready for Christmas. We must take the time out of our day and thank God for all He has given us. We must take time out for joy.
Fourth Sunday in Advent-Love
If you have a figurine of Mary without the baby it might be placed with your candles this Sunday. A picture of Mary and Jesus might be used in its place. Sometimes Christmas candles in the shape of Mary can be purchased and such a candle could be used from year to year. You can slso just set up the same miniature characters you used last week.
Child: We have lit three candles as we have been preparing our hearts for Christmas. One for the forgiveness of God. (Light the candle). One for the peace of God. (Light a candle) One for the joy Jesus’ coming brought to all mankind. (Light the candle)
Parent: This day we wish to remember the love of God which we know because Jesus came. For God, in his great love, was concerned that men didn’t fully understand what he was like, or how he wanted them to live, so he sent Jesus.
Child:Let us light our fourth Advent candle to remeind us of the love of God which came to us in the form of Jesus. (Light the candle.)
Adult: God wants us to love one another. Every day we have opportunities to get mad at each other. We snap at each other and lash out. Sometimes we don’t even realize what we are doing, we just treat each other meanly. It is our job to control ourselves and remember how much it hurts God to see us acting this way. God wants us to be happy and love each other. Love is the greatest gift that God has given us and we should be very thankful and try to love our family and friends with the same love that God has for each of us.
Prayer: Our Father, help us to prepare for Jesus’ coming by loving others as you have loved us. Amen.
Child: What are some ways we can show love to each other as a family? (discuss)
Adult: When we sing, pray or talk about the Lord, He smiles down on us. Those are all ways we can show love to God. Now let’s sing Hark The Herald Angels Sing.
(End of devotional.)
Christmas Eve or Christmas Day- just to wrap it all up.
On this day something should be added to your candles to suggest people around the world, possibly foreighn dolls if available or foreign Christmas cards, or you can have a craft and make small flags stuck in Styrofoam or even gumdrops to make them stand up. Paper dolls can also be made for this purpose. These suggestions are for if you have small children and just want to enhance it all.
Child: We have lit four candles during this Advent season as we have been preparing our hearts for Christmas. We have remembered the forgiveness, the peace, the joy, and the love of God which we enjoy because Jesus came.
Light first four candles.
Parent: Today all over the world where there are Christians, the birth of Jesus is being celerated. It is being celebrated in many different ways, many of them strange to us, but all having one purpose–to express the joy that Jesus’ coming means to us. (O Tannenbaum or another foreighn song)
Parent: Let us listen to an old familiar and well loved story , the story of Jesus birth: Luke 2:1-16 (better to read it from the Bible, but here it is:
In these days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered (it is like when we pay taxes, the king said everyone should give them their names so they can pay their taxes.) Everyone went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.
He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.
Im that region there were shepherds living in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid: for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest Heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors.
When the angels had left them and gone into Heaven the shepherd said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us? So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this they made known what had been told to them and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
Child: Let us remember Jesus not only as a tiny baby, but also as a grown man. He was born at Christmas but then he grew up like you and I do. As he grew up he did many things. Let’s recall how He loved all men, how he helped them, how he taught them and how he changed their lives. Let us also remember that we, too, can learn how to live from the way he lived.
Adult: What are some ways we can try to be like Jesus?
Child: Let us light our fifth candle, the one that represents Jesus– the light of the world, the One who ame to show us how to live. Let us celebrate his birthday by trying to live as he did.
Light the fifth candle.
Prayer: Our Father, we thank you for your gifts of forgiveness, of peace, of joy, and of love which we enjoy. We thank you especially for the best gift of all and that is Jesus Christ who made these other gifts possible. Help us to understand better thenks that he taught. Help us to live more as he lived and to love you as he loved you. Amen.
Adult: Today is a hectic day filled with gift giving, visiting people and trying to do a lot of things. It would be so easy to just forget the real meaning of Christmas and get caught up in the new presents we get. We may be getting restless. This day of all days is when we should peacefully sit and think.
Child: As we gaze at the candle, we see the light which God has put into our hearts. We also see our family and the flame represents the love we have for each other as well as for the Lord. May the closeness we feel right now stay with us as we go about our daily lives.
Adult: Now let’s sing Silent Night as we try to keep that peaceful, loving feeling in our hearts.
Child: Let’s think of ways we can keep this spirit of Christmas in our hearts throughout the year. Let us think of ways to show love for each other and for our friends and even for strangers.
Adult: Let us think of the things we have learned in these Advent services… we have learned God wants us to Forgive people, He wants us to have peace in our hearts and not be afraid. He wants us to experience joy and to always have the love of Jesus Christ with us every day of the year.
Prayer: Thank you God for sending your son. Thank you for the time we are taking out of our busy schedule right now to think about you and praise you and realize that without you nothing matters, and with you everything is so much more hopeful, happy, and peaceful. Please bless our family and friends. Amen.,
Child: God Bless us every one.
This Devotional may be copied and used from year to year. I hope it has been a blessing to you.
Sally Tippett Rains is a motivational speaker, inspirational writer and author of 13 books, including Choose Happy; Find Contentment in Any Situation. She is the volunteer Executive Director of Rainbows for Kids and content manager for STLSportsPage.com.