We’ve been talking for the last few days about ways to celebrate Advent with your family and I’d like to add one more suggestion, employing acts of service. In the devotional that my family used for most of my childhood, during the last week of Advent we each randomly picked a name of another family member from a hat and then did secret acts of service for that person until Christmas Eve when we each revealed whose name we had drawn. This was a very simple way to encourage acts of service and it worked well, even as children. I think it is a great place to start. I think that so much about Advent and overall Christmas can be about us. First we have the materialism of our culture that is focused on eating and buying and acquiring rather than gratitude, generosity and service. Even within Christian celebrations it can still be very personal. Jesus came for me, because God loves me. That is a good thing to remember. But what is even more important is that we are to extend the gift. Jesus is God’s gift to us and we are called to share his love and the gift of salvation with others.
I suggest an outward in approach to the process. Begin Advent by focusing on others, perhaps in another area of the world. This year my family and I are considering a donation to Gospel for Asia’s Christmas Critter Project or Heifer International. My daughter is excited about providing a family (maybe one with a little girl like her) with access to food and education via a goat or sheep. My daughter’s Awana’s group participates in Operation Christmas Child. I think it’s great to start Advent by focusing on others who have less than we do.
Then maybe on the second week of advent find someone to help in your community. Maybe a local soup kitchen or food bank needs help or donations. Or look for someone in your neighborhood who needs help raking leaves or shoveling snow. This can be as simple or as complicated as you decide to make it. Help you children purchase gifts for the Angel Tree Project. Donate your time and money to local causes you support. My husband and I decided to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sales from my Advent devotional to a local pro-life charity we love, CareNet of the Lehigh Valley. In our area we purchase gift cards for the clients local organization that supports the mentally disabled. During the school year our church fills backpacks with food each week for low income kids at a nearby elementary school and we host a cold weather homeless shelter one night a week during the winter months. Get your family involved with similar projects in your own community, as appropriate depending on the ages of your children.
The third week of Advent you can bring it in further and look for people to bless in your church and extended family. Ask your elders or deacons if there is a family in the church who has needs during the holiday season, whether they be financial or practical. Provide childcare for a low income mom so she can get to a doctor’s appointment or do her grocery shopping. Make a meal for a family in crisis. Have your children make a gift, write a simple card or bake something for an elderly relative that you don’t often see. Just to let that person know that you are thinking about them.
Finally in the last week before Christmas, encourage your children to serve each other and the family. Do each other’s chores, take turns cooking meals, being especially kind and accommodating. This may all feel strange in the beginning but the point is to cultivate attitudes of service in our children as we approach Christmas, a time of celebration for God’s ultimate gift to us, his son.
I know that sometimes acts of service can see like just one more thing on the seemingly never ending Christmas to-do list, but it’s a crucial opportunity to show our children that it isn’t just all about them this year.
Have you ever incorporated service into your family Christmas celebrations? What kinds of things did you do?