God’s purpose? To be with us.

You can do this:  Dig deeper into the Christmas story.

Ask questions at your family dinner table.
Ask the question most frequently asked by young children: Why?

I remember telling my kids when they were very young, a simple explanation for why we celebrate Christmas:

It’s Jesus’ birthday.

Birthdays are easy for kids to understand. On your child’s birthday, do they enjoy hearing the story about the day they were born? (Or perhaps the day they were adopted?) It follows that on Jesus’ birthday we tell over and over, the account of his arrival.

crèche scene

We typically hear the story from Luke – a trek to Bethlehem, rooms at capacity, a babe born amongst beasts, topped off with sojourning, wonder-struck shepherds. It always amazes me: Jesus’ first bed was an animal feeding trough, and second-string sheep-tenders were Jesus’ inaugural guests. Everyone had been on the lookout for a majestic monarch, yet God slipped into our world as a defenseless little baby.

Why did the story happen this way?

What were God’s intentions? When we dig deeper, and read in Matthew, we reveal God’s purpose:

 She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

Immanuel, means in Hebrew:  “with us is God.” Ah! A glimpse at God’s motive.

Jesus was sent to be God with us!

Ready for some family discussion surrounding Immanuel / God-with-us?

  Start off reading together Matthew 1:18-24.

A long time ago, God quietly came to earth via his son Jesus. Most people in those days didn’t recognize Jesus as their long-waited-for Savior. What about these days, do you suppose people recognize God-with-us today?

What are some ways that God makes his presence known to us?
a magnifying glass
  What can make it hard to “see” God?

How can we help others to notice God with us?

Back in Bible times it seemed that God was more overt in his communication with people. For instance, in our current Rotation on Jesus’ birth story, there are lots of “angels of the Lord.” One named Gabriel, visited Mary, whereas Joseph had two angelic visits in his dreams. And the shepherds… they got a sky-full!

Angels made by the younger kids at church

What evidence of God have you seen lately?

What about that bird perched just so, on the snow-covered branch…

Cardinal in snowy treeTo me nature-happenings are a sort of message from God. He says, “Slow down. Take notice. Isn’t what I’ve created intricate and amazing? I created you too. Oh, what a beautiful job I did! Do you see that little bird? The one perched outside your window? I care about him. I care about you!”


God is with us.
In what ways will you look for his presence?

Photo credits…

Photos are from my archives. Copyright Carol Hulbert.

How to find time for God in the midst of Advent chaos?

Are you feeling it yet? The rat-race turmoil leaning towards a muddled mess?

A dance of light rays

It must be Advent. (Or it could be in the midst of the chaos of any season.)

How can we find time for peace?
How can we find time for God?

Pastor Nancy Lynn at FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI had some ideas in a recent sermon.

Let’s review Nancy’s ideas. (And is it okay if I build on them?)

    Split rocks in the woods

  • Go out and notice something in nature.
    (Even if it’s just a bunch of rocks.) Set a recurring timer (to go off when it will be okay to be interrupted). When it rings, go for a daily walk. Find a truly beautiful nature-made article. Allow yourself to fill with awe. Yes! God made this!
  • Take time for prayer.
    (Be like Jesus?) How about a different way of praying? Breath prayer: This sort of prayer brings yourself to a quiet rest. Start by relaxing—take a couple of deep breaths. Then, focusing on your breath, silently recite a word (or words) over and over.

    Try the Aramaic word (Jesus spoke Aramaic) that means “Come Lord” – Maranatha. Break it into four syllables:
    Breath In: Ma
    Breath Out: Ra
    Breath In: Na
    Breath Out: Tha
    When your mind drifts, bring yourself gently back.

  • Change your prevailing viewpoint. Give yourself compassion and change your self-talk!
    Practice grace and forgiveness… towards yourself! Rather than piling up accusations against yourself (I should have… I am such an idiot… Why didn’t I… ) Try loading your brain with positive, helpful thoughts. Phrases like:
    • Sometimes I make mistakes. I can learn from them.
    • Most decisions in life involve tradeoffs.
    • I chose not to buy the most expensive gift.

    This change can take some brain-training. Keep at it!

  • “Rack - Random Acts of Christmas KindnessMake a point to be spontaneously kind. Print a calendar page for December. Each day write something you’ve done to be helpful.

    Want a different idea to promote a randomly caring attitude? Try “RACK” (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness).

  • May one of these activities help you to find peace (and God with you) in this busy season!


    Photo credits…
    Chaos by kevin dooley, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0). Rest of photos from my archives. (I made the RACK’ed figure.)

    Here comes Advent!

    Advent 2020 is coming!

    Are you ready? Have you planned activities to engage your family in the season of waiting for Christmas?

    Why Advent? The word “Advent” comes from Latin; it means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent signals that Christmas is coming; the day when we celebrate that God arrived on earth as baby Jesus. Advent gives us time to prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming. We get to focus our hearts and minds and actions, on the amazing story of God with us!

    What can we do during Advent? Try some of these activities:

    Bring out the Advent wreath.Advent wreath Remember when we in non-COVID times we’d spruce up our wreaths at church? Not happening this year! Bring it out of storage anyhow! It will work just as well. Replace the candles. Don’t worry about what color they are! Things are different this year!

    Light those Advent candles. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent, and why not everyday, light the appropriate number of candles (one for each week of Advent) during your family dinner. Can’t all be there for dinner? How about over breakfast or over an after-school or bedtime snack? Or just use it as an excuse to gather together for shared family time. (Even if it’s only for 5 minutes!)

    Use your Advent wreath as a way to spark faith conversation.
    Print a copy of an Advent Wreath discussion guide.

    Go on a photo hunt!Picture Advent 2020
    Join in on the fun of Picture Advent. On the first day of Advent 2020 photograph something that says “Open.” On Monday look for “Presence,” etc. See the list of various photo ops for 2020. share your photos on the church Facebook page.

    Use an Advent Calendar. There are all sorts of these to be found, though they typically count the days in December (as opposed to the weeks of Advent).

    Use your Nativity set as an Advent Calendar – set up a path of numbered “stepping stones” (cut from paper?) Have Mary and Joseph slowly make their way to the stable scene.

    An Advent paper chainOR, have your kids assemble a paper chain with 24 links. Print out this list of Bible verses and glue one verse to each link. Every day in December snip a link and read the Bible together.

    OR, Use my favorite Bible storybook – The Jesus Storybook Bible. Read one story each day. (They all tie to Jesus; even the Old Testament.) Download a PDF of this reading plan. A sample of which is shown below. (There are multiple other, not-so-fancy versions out on the internet. Do a search.)

    A page from the Advent Calendar based on The Jesus Storybook Bible

    grass grows in a cupPlant Straw for the Manger. Fill a cup with potting soil. Place it on a sunward windowsill. Have a container of seeds close by – use grass seed or “cat grass” or wheat berries. Every time someone does something nice for someone, they get to plant a seed. Watch it grow (water regularly) and on December 24th mow it down to fill the manger in your crèche scene.

    Use unexpected moments to focus on Advent themes. Find yourself stuck in traffic or in the slow lane at the store? Transform your marking-time-moment into an example of how the Israelites waited for the arrival of the Savior – for hundreds of years! What are other daily instances that remind you of peace, light, grace, joy, hope, love…?

    You've been RACK'ed - Random Acts of Christmas Kindness
    Check this list
    of other Advent ideas…
    including Random Acts of Christmas Kindness! A fun way to put the focus on being kind to others.

    What Advent activities are being arranged in your household?


    Photo credits…
    Grass in a cup by Shardayyy Photography, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
    The page from The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent calendar created under fair usage. (I’m linking to their product at no benefit to myself. And you’ll for sure want one. Did I mention that it’s my favorite?)
    Other photos, copyright, from my archives.

    Happy New Year!

    New Years eve fireworks to welcome in the new year with a display of light

    No. My calendar pages are not out of order. And I realize that today is not January 1st.

    But today is the start of a new year according to the liturgical calendar, which is the calendar that guides the seasons of the church year. Advent is the beginning of a new church year and Advent starts today! Thus, it is okay to go around shouting, “Happy New Year!”

    Just what is the liturgical calendar?

    Unlike the calendars we all carry with us, the purpose of the liturgical calendar is not to mark the passage of time. Instead, it is a calendar that repeats every year: Advent, Christmastide, the day of Epiphany, the season after Epiphany, Lent, Easter, etc, etc. Through this continuous cycling of seasons, we hear the stories of Jesus and the start of the church. It all begins today, with the season of Advent in which we prepare our hearts for Jesus to come into our world as a small baby.

    Returning to the same stories?

    With an annual revisiting of these stories do we find them a little bit different each time? Perhaps because we ourselves have changed?

    As Joan Chittister says in her book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life

    Open quote markWe are older, wiser, more experienced. We are also more needy, less sure of ourselves, more greedy for life, and less sure of what it really is.

    Paying attention to the changing church seasons can make us aware of how we fit into these stories.

    Other clues to a changing season?

    A chart showing the percentage of time for various sessions of the church year

    The liturgical calendar is often displayed as a circle and certain colors mark each season. Look for changes in the colors used in worship – the cloths (called paraments) that cloak the altar or hang from the pulpit, or are worn by the clergy. (They may be purple or blue.) Look also for changed wording in the bulletin.

    Happy New Year!

    May you live your liturgical year with eyes open to your place in God’s story!


    Photo credits… White Rocket Burst by christmasstockimages.com, is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0).
    View the pie chart I created here.


    Activities for Advent

    kids acting bizarre in front of the Christmas tree
    To most adults Advent means:

    Ready or not, here comes Christmas.

    But to a child, Advent should be called:

    Hurry up and wait!

    What child doesn’t have difficulty waiting for Christmas! (Perhaps strange behavior will result?)

    It probably won’t do any good to tell your vigilant kids about how people, two thousand plus years ago (when Jesus was born) had been waiting a long, long time. They had waited for the coming of Christ for hundreds of years! Can’t our kids wait a few more weeks?

    Make use of your Advent waiting time.

    Here are ideas and resources for waiting Advent:

    • Encourage various ways of telling the Christmas story; how about using a crèche? (Also known as a “manager scene.”) Is yours off-limits to the kids? Get everyone involved in making a version that children can play with. And tell the story over and over! Use air-drying clay or even toilet paper tubes dressed in fabric. Move Mary and Joseph around the room. Anyone for a trip to Bethlehem? Create a shepherds scene in another part of the house. Where should the wise men go?
    • Mary and Joseph built out of LEGO® bricks

    • Got a LEGO®-maniac in your house? Make the figures for a nativity scene from LEGO® bricks. Camels, Sheep, a Holy Family, and more! Visit this site for building instructions. A grazing sheep made out of Legos

    • Another way to “tell” the story: act it out. Get creative with props and costumes: a flash light becomes the star that guided wise men, a bath robe makes an on-the-spot shepherd.
    • Get into the RACK act! RACK is “Random Acts of Christmas Kindness.” How fun! Do one a day or a bunch all at once. Can you sense the surprise pleasure in finding a quarter stuck to a vending machine or a candy cane on the ATM?

      Rack'ed: Random Acts of Christmas Kindness

      To print out cards to stick wherever you “RACK” someone go here. Or to print out cards that you can write your own message on, go here.

    • Want your kids to be more grateful? It needs to be taught! Consider these ideas for ways to teach gratitude. (I like this idea: Pin up a long piece of paper and record gifts you already have!) Or, continue filling up your family blessing box!
    • Do you have lots of Christmas (or winter) story books? Have the kids wrap them and tag them with the date. As part of your bedtime routine, read the storybook-of-the-day. You can make this idea “Advent-y” by adding a Bible verse with each book. Talk about the verse and what it means to you. (Print out a set of possible verses here.)

    Christmas will be here before you know it!


    Photo credits…
    Bizarre children by SMN, who had originally licensed this photo under a Creative Commons License.
    Holy Family from LEGO® bricks, by Leo Dorst. Reproduced by permission. (Yes! I asked!)
    RACK card from Tracie. Used with permission.

    Joy to the World?

    I think it’s appropriate that the theme of the third Sunday of Advent is “Joy.”
    Right about now, in the crazy, busy preparations of the season, I need to slow down and remember: Joy.

    But joy can be strangely difficult to find.

    What joy is there in agonizing over the best gift to select for each person. (Will she like it? Will it be good enough? This is so tiring and I haven’t even headed to the mall.) Where is joy in not having time to bake the prettiest, yummiest cookies. (Will my kids/friends hate me for not producing?) And the Christmas tree? Still.not.up.yet.

    Christmas is about joy? Have I have fallen victim to the Christmas blahs?

    I’ve allowed a heart-takeover; an unrealistic view of what Christmas should look like. I have forgotten the true “joy” of Christmas.

    It is a struggle in today’s world, to keep Advent focused on religious tradition. I need to turn from these nagging, guilty feelings and remember the real reason for joy:

    Love came among us.

    God must have been so excited on the first Christmas! Finally, the time was here, the time that had been planned for, since the beginning! Finally he would come amidst his people and be the one to teach them all about radical love.

    I need that reminder: joy.

    Joy banner

    Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
    Let earth receive her King;
    Let every heart prepare Him room…

    Our family together, will be a worthy substitute for plates full of cookies.
    The gifts will be mostly radical.
    And the tree will be put up, eventually. Maybe.

    What are you doing to focus on real joy?


    — Carol

    Photo credits:
    Photos are from my archives.

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    A Blessing: divine source of life

    On the first Christmas God showed himself to us in a new way.

    We were touched by God in the flesh.

    Nativity Parament

    Inject a little reminder of this, by blessing your child with these words. Say your child’s name and…

    Open quote markMay you feel close to the divine source of all life.

    Click on a box if you would like to…
    A check-box Satisfy your curiosity about why you should bless your child.
    A check-box View other suggested blessings.

    Photo credits:
    Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
    Other photo: from my archives.

    Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

    Advent: it’s all about rituals

    Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent!

    The word “Advent” comes from Latin; it means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent signals that Christmas is coming. Christmas is of course, based on the fact that God arrived on earth as a baby, Jesus. Advent gives us all-important time to prepare to re-celebrate Christ’s coming.

    So, what sort of preparations are needed?

    How about this one: Have you taught your kids to set the table?  (The fork always goes on the left.)  Setting the table is like a ritual.  (It would look backwards if the fork were on the right!)

    a child sets the dinner table

    Why are rituals so important to us?

    Rituals and traditions are repeated activities that help family members develop a sense of belonging; they connect us together and they connect us to God! During this Advent season, set a different kind of table in your home.  Make time for rituals that help your children prepare for the coming celebration of Christmas.

    Here’s an idea: put together a simple Advent wreath.

    Traditionally they are made of greenery but that isn’t critical; just set up 4 candles in a circle. (The round shape of an Advent wreath is a reminder of the never-ending love that God has for you and your family.) Starting tomorrow and all next week, daily light one candle over your meal shared with your family. Can’t all be there for dinner? How about over breakfast or over a bedtime snack?

    Use your Advent wreath as a way to spark faith conversation.

    Print a copy of your Advent Wreath discussion guide.

    Spend time as a family talking about other ways you’ll prepare to welcome the celebration of Jesus in your life. Need more ideas? Search for “Advent” on this blog.


    Photo credits…
    Setting the table by Kitty Ireland, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).