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I wrote and shared this devotion with a local MOMSNext group this December, pondering a bit on their theme of “wonder.” I thought I’d share it in this space as well. Merry Christmas friends. 



by Jan L Richardson

“The season of Advent means there is
something on the horizon the likes of
which we have never seen before…
What is possible is to not see it, to miss it,
to turn just as it brushes past you.
And you begin to grasp what it was you
missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock,
watching God fade in the distance.
So stay, Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait.
Behold. Wonder.
There will be time enough for running.
For rushing. For worrying. For pushing.
For now, stay. Wait.
Something is on the horizon.”


Last week we were driving home from church when my daughter started asking me about where Jesus was born. She wants to play the part of the innkeeper in this year’s pageant so she is working to get all the details straightened out.

So we talked a bit about what the Bible tells us (that there was no room in the inn, and when Mary needed to set Jesus down she did so in a feeding trough) and what it doesn’t (exactly where Jesus was born—a cave, a stable, a lower level in a family member’s home, or who attended Mary’s delivery). At one point the conversation shifted to what it means that Jesus was born under such lowly circumstances, rather than in a palace or bustling metropolis.

“You know what my favorite part of the Christmas story is?” I asked my girls. When they shook their heads no I continued on, “the people to whom God chose to send his angels with the grandest birth announcement in the history of birth announcements. The shepherds were the nobodies back then. The worst, the stinkiest, the smelliest, the rudest, the ones who never got invited to a party.” As I asked my girls what jobs we might consider “lower than low” in our culture today, we pondered just who God might deliver his message of a savior’s birth to—garbage collectors, janitors, pig farmers. (But really, maybe it would be immigrants, or “thugs,” or the group of homeless guys who hang out downtown each night.) God wanted us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus came not for the high and mighty, the wealthy and the powerful, the knowledgeable and the professional. Jesus came for the everyday average you and me, and those we often leave out entirely—and the shepherds teach us that.


I love that “Wonder” is one of our theme words this year. And, of course, there is nothing like sitting under a summer night sky, filled with the incredible beauty of stars, for us to get a sense of that feeling of wonder.

Wonder is a difficult emotion to describe. Take a moment to think back at your last experience of wonder. How would you describe it?

David James Duncan writes that “Wonder is my second favorite condition to be in after love—and I sometimes wonder whether there’s even a difference: maybe love is just wonder aimed at a beloved. Wonder is like grace, in that it is not a condition we grasp: wonder grasps us.”

To me, wonder and nature go hand in hand. Wonder and music go hand in hand. Wonder and the laughter of a child. Wonder and grace. There is something to a lack of comprehension that brings about this feeling of wonder. We do not experience it when we are in an environment too busy with outside distractions. Wonder takes stopping.

There is something to this season of Christmas that can only be described as wonder. I don’t know about you, but sometime in June or July or August or September when I think forward to the Christmas season I just get this happy feeling in my belly. I think that is the wonder of the season.


This year I am particularly aware of the darkness surrounding us. Literally and figuratively, things in our world (at least to me) seem a bit darker these days. So there is something extra magical about the twinkling lights of my neighbor’s houses, the trees in their window, the fire in the fireplace…the light those bring. We don’t get a sky full of stars very often this time of year in the Northwest, but we are blessed everywhere we turn with moments of starry wonder in the form of twinkling LED.

I wonder about that night when Jesus was born. Was the sky full of the brightness from stars and a full moon? Or was it a bit dreary and cloud-filled, with the shepherds huddled around their source of warmth and light: the campfire? Scripture tells us it was night, and some were awake to keep watch while others were likely sleeping.

And suddenly an angel appeared and “God’s glory blazed around them.” They were terrified. But the angel made an announcement, and then was joined with a massive angelic choir singing God’s praises. I just don’t think we can quite comprehend what it must have been to witness such a scene.

When the angels returned to heaven we’re told the shepherds had a little conversation where they decided to go and check things out in Bethlehem. So they ran to find Mary and Joseph and the baby.

Can you imagine Mary? She is exhausted from giving birth. She is away from home, from her family, from her sisters and mother who would have helped her through her labor pains and celebrated with her the arrival of a healthy baby boy. And here suddenly a loud, rowdy, smelly, group of ruffian shepherds comes to greet her son. With what stories do they tell? Stories of angel armies singing of God’s glory, stories of a birth announcement and a hurry to see if things were true. What kind of welcome wagon was this?

When the shepherds depart, sharing the good news with everyone they meet, Mary ponders all that she has seen and heard. Her son is special. And she is not alone. These may not have been the visitors she wanted, but there they were. God may have a funny way of proving it, but Mary knows she is seen. She knows the song of Hagar, of El Roi—the God who sees me. She stores this knowledge in her heart. She ponders the impossibility of it all: the trip to Bethlehem, the pain of labor and delivery, the fear of being away from home, the cry of a healthy infant, the amazement at God’s provision that goes above and beyond. Mary has been seen by the God of the universe, visited by angels and by shepherds. She treasured up these things and pondered them in the deep places of her heart.

I think Mary knew a thing or two about wonder.


Fourth Sunday of Advent – PEACE

Fourth Sunday of Advent – PEACE


REVIEW: Previous week’s candles. Advent symbols. How we are feeling about the upcoming arrival of the king.

LIGHT THE CANDLES AND ASK: What makes you feel peaceful? (blanket, cup of warm milk, hug, snuggles)

SAY: Those things help me feel peaceful too. (If your children mentioned cuddles or blankets, snuggle on the couch under blankets for the story today.) But you know what? The Peace that Jesus gives is even greater than a blanket or a warm cup of milk. Jesus is called “The Prince of Peace” because he gives us peace that nothing on earth can give. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

READ or WATCH: The King of all kings” from The Jesus Storybook Bible (The Wise men from Matthew 2)

ASK: The kings in this story had a lot to be afraid of. Like what? Why do you think they kept going?

ACTIVITY: Christmas is close. Are you feeling stressed or anxious? Take time this night to cuddle with your family. Have a special treat. Spend time together enjoying the Christmas lights. Feel the PEACE that Christ can bring.

SING: We Three Kings or Let There Be Peace on Earth

Third Sunday of Advent – JOY

Third Sunday of Advent – JOY


REVIEW: Previous week’s candles. Advent symbols. Why we celebrate advent.

LIGHT THE HOPE and LOVE CANDLES, along with a PINK CANDLE AND ASK: What are you most excited about for Christmas? (This week’s candle is pink because we are over half-way through advent, there is great celebration to be had…Jesus is coming!)

SAY: That feeling of excitement is kind of like the feeling of happiness, kind of like joy. But joy and happiness are a little different. Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes because it depends on your circumstances: if someone is being nice, if you are doing something you like, if you got something cool. But joy is a feeling that is deeper, it is a feeling that comes from God. It is that always-there-never-goes-away happiness of knowing that you are loved by the Creator of the Universe. As I read today, I want you to listen for someone who might have felt joy.

READ or WATCH: The Light of the Whole World” in The Jesus Storybook Bible

ASK: Who did you hear about in this story who had joy? (Angels and Shepherds) What did they have to be joyful about?

ACTIVITY: There is great joy in giving someone a really cool gift that you think they’re going to love. Spend time together wrapping gifts and praying for people who will receive them. OR, go through the Christmas cards your family has received and pray for JOY for each family in the coming year.

SING: Joy to the World or Hark the Herald Angels Sing


Second Sunday of Advent – LOVE

Second Sunday of Advent – LOVE


REVIEW:  What was last week’s candle? What are some of the advent symbols? What does light represent? What does “advent” mean?

(This week light two purple candles. The “HOPE” candle from last week and a new purple candle.)

LIGHT THE CANDLES AND ASK: How do you show love to someone? How do you know if someone loves you?

SAY: God sent Jesus to earth so that we would know how much he loves us. That’s what the Bible says in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” But how did this Jesus get here?

READ or WATCH: He’s Here” from The Jesus Storybook Bible (The Nativity, from Luke 1-2, ending with Jesus’ birth)

ASK How did Mary and Joseph show love to each other in this story? How did they show love to Jesus?

ACTIVITY: Wrap a small box (like a shoe box) and cut a slit in the top. Leave out pieces of paper and pencils nearby. Talk about how you can show love to Jesus at Christmas by showing love to others. Encourage your family to “fill” the box with love, by writing or drawing when you do so and putting it in the box. (Open the box on Christmas eve as a gift to the baby Jesus.)

SING: Away in a Manger or Silent Night


First Sunday of Advent – HOPE

First Sunday of Advent – HOPE



ASK: If you knew you were going to have a visit from a really special person, like a king, how would you prepare?

SAY: At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our King. And these weeks leading up to Christmas we prepare our homes, we decorate and put up a tree and buy presents for loved ones. But how do we prepare our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth?

That is what we call “advent.”  Advent is the time we spend preparing our hearts for Jesus’ arrival. One way we will prepare during advent as a family is using an advent wreath.

SHOW AND TELL: Show your family the advent wreath you have prepared and talk about the symbols:

  • circle: eternal, without end
  • evergreen boughs: eternal
  • color purple: royalty
  • color pink: joy
  • color white: purity
  • light: Jesus came to be the light of the world, to give light to the darkness

SAY: Each of these candles has a special meaning and we’ll learn what each one is as we light one each week leading up to Christmas.


Week 1: HOPE (Prophecy)

ACTIVITY: Turn off all the lights and make it as dark as possible. Discuss the darkness and how hard it is. As much as you are able, light the candle and do the reading and discussion with just that candle lit.

LIGHT THE CANDLE AND ASK: What do you hope for during this Christmas season? (Everyone share.)

SAY: The candle we light tonight is called the “hope” candle. For a long time God’s people waited for a savior. They hoped that God would keep his promise and send a Savior.

READ: Operation No More Tears” from The Jesus Storybook Bible (prophecies from Isaiah 9, 11, 40, 50, 53, 55, 60)

SAY: We know that God fulfilled his promise to his people because we know that he sent his Son Jesus to earth as a baby. That is what we celebrate this Christmas. And we have hope too, because we know that God will keep his promises to us: promises to care for us and keep us safe. Promises to love us, and to return someday to make all things right again.

ACTIVITY: Slowly add more light to the room. Light a fire in the fireplace. Turn on the Christmas tree. Turn on some lights. Share how the light makes you feel.

SING: Sing verse 1 of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” or “O Come, Emmanuel” and as you are able, explain some of the lyrics and how they apply to the Bible passage.


Preparing for Advent

Preparing for Advent

Is it just me or has 2016 flown by? Here we are shopping and cleaning and all the general preparation that goes into hosting Thanksgiving this year (my first time EVER, more on that later) and I just realized the First Sunday of Advent is THIS WEEK!

But honestly, I can’t remember a time where I have been more grateful for the literal darkness and the reminder to slow down and wait on God with expectant hope. I need this advent season more than I ever have before. Maybe you do too?

I’m looking forward to using this devotional for my own personal study this month, and as a family we have two traditions that help us enter more fully into this season of waiting and hoping.

So thankful my church is passing out these books!
So thankful my church is passing out these books!

First off, this will be our third year of daily readings from this Jesse Tree devotional. The past two years we have used the printable ornaments provided with the book, but this year I am so excited that we now have our own set of homemade ornaments to hang with each story because I was able to recruit 24 friends to join me in a Jesse Tree ornament exchange. There are several blog posts on the interwebs detailing how to host an exchange, but I’m happy to share my own experience here. Since you don’t have enough time now to organize such an exchange before Christmas, I’ll blog this bad boy sometime in the New Year.

This is our Jesse Tree book, but there are many options on the market.
This is our Jesse Tree book, but there are many options on the market.

The other thing our family has done since the girls were itty bitty, is to gather around an advent wreath each Sunday evening. The first year we had an advent wreath I couldn’t find a devotional guide that I liked, so I wrote my own. We’ve been using a modified version of those devotions every year since, and each year I wonder if this is the year I’ll have to write something new. We’re not there yet!

I thought I would share these advent devotionals here with you this December. My plan is to post the Sunday’s devotion on Friday so that you have enough time to pray and prepare before Sunday. These devotions are intended for the preschool/elementary set and are therefore pretty short and sweet. Any supplies needed are listed but you are likely to have them around your home already. The readings I include are from the “Jesus Storybook Bible” which I think is an amazing children’s Bible and should be in your library for sure. But, if you don’t have a copy you are in luck, because the stories included have YouTube videos available and well, since you’re reading this on the internet I’m going to assume you have internet access in your home.

If you want to join along then this week (before Sunday preferably) you’ll need to gather up some supplies to make an advent wreath or pull your wreath out of the attic where it’s been collecting dust all winter. There are a million ideas on pinterest if you need to create one, and of course you can purchase a premade wreath as well. I’m partial to using the traditional colored candles (3 purple, 1 pink, 1 white) but that is not a necessity. If you have little kids, there are wreaths to make that don’t take burning actual candles, or you can do like we’ve done and use votive candles instead of pillar ones. My kids really like blowing out the candles after the prayer, so we want to include that fun part for them.

This is the advent wreath we have used the past two years: cake stand, votive candles, large white candle, greenery collected from the yard.
This is the advent wreath we have used the past two years: cake stand, votive candles, large white candle, greenery collected from the yard.

Advent is a wonderful time that allows us to calm our hearts and our heads in the midst of December craziness, a time to focus on the baby Jesus. I pray that taking the time each week to light a candle, share a story, have a discussion, and pray together will be meaningful for you and your family and draw you close to the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, God with Us.

See you on Friday!