By Brett Younger       


Early Christians felt the Christmas festival should be preceded by a period of preparation. Over the centuries this period has become Advent, which means coming or, for some, shopping days. While we get lots of suggestions on how to celebrate Christmas from children, in-laws, and the makers of cashmere V-neck sweaters, it's not always clear how best to celebrate Advent. Here are a few simple suggestions on how to enjoy rather than endure the season.


Give better gifts this year - not more expensive ones, better ones. December gets so crowded that we easily end up feeling like Scrooge. Give at least one bona-fide gift from the heart to someone who expects nothing from you. Give an anonymous gift. Leave a clue if you secretly want them to figure out it's from you. Accompany your gifts to family with a smile, a hug, and a genuine, "This is for you." This is especially festive when hugging those who don't make a practice of hugging.


Find a real gift. Instead of buying a cheese sampler or a pen and pencil set for someone you love but can't shop for, send a gift in their honor to CBF's Offering for Global Missions. Write a note telling them why this offering is so important.    


Remember the first Christmas story. Buy a nativity set for your children. Read the story from Luke and Matthew as your children choreograph the animals and the figures. (When my oldest son Graham was three, he kept hiding baby Jesus. I'm sure it was a sermon illustration, but I never figured out what it illustrated.) Read Martin Luther's Christmas Book or Walter Wangerin's The Manger is Empty. Take a walk and consider the night Jesus was born.


Remember Christmases past - picking out a tree that was a foot too tall, hoping for snow (this is hard for native Georgians), and wearing your father's bathrobe and mother's slippers in the Christmas pageant. If you end up with mist in your eyes, make a phone call.


Come to church to celebrate Advent - in worship each Sunday, the Children's Christmas Music, the Elf Workshop, the Live Nativity, the Taize Advent Service, the Family Night Christmas Party, and Candlelight Communion on Christmas Eve. Go to something you haven't attended before.


Advent shouldn't be about finding the one acceptable e-mail card to send everyone in your address book. There is a promise in Advent, a depth that has little to do with the trappings surrounding the holidays and everything to do with God's promise of hope. If we prepare our hearts and open our eyes, something wondrous may come.