Menu: Pork tenderloin, roasted in the oven with peaches, pears, and sweet onions (this is similar to what I did, but I added a can of peaches-in-juice before roasting – and then added about two cups of chicken broth to the pan when it was about half done in the oven… so no need to make another dirty saucepot) Roasted potatoes with garlic & herbs Fluffy rolls Cranberry sauce (left over from last week) Green bean casserole (yep, a classic from my 80s childhood – canned cream soup and all) Peppermint Flourless Chocolate torte with ganache & peppermint
Rested with: fellowship with friends kids playing games reading books with the toddler affogato for dessert not doing dishes because disposable dishes are a gift talking to my mama on the phone writing Christmas cards reading poetry
Menu: Chicken cordon bleu (chicken breasts rolled with ham & swiss inside, then dipped in oil & bread crumbs; topped with shredded mozzarella; baked with a wine & broth bath) Brown rice (it was al dente… oh well… instant pot isn’t infallible) Roasted brussels, asparagus, & onion (gotta roast them long enough there is some good char for flavor!) Cranberry sauce (with fresh orange zest and a pinch of cinnamon) Garlic bread (yes, my kids are addicted to garlic bread lately… so I have been obliging them for the feasts!) Sticky toffee pudding (I had never made this before, but this will absolutely be an annual favorite from now on!)
Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10 A Child is Born, from Nativity, by G.K. Chesterton Love’s Incarnate Birth by Madeleine l’Engle
Carols: Comfort, Comfort Ye, My People How Brightly Shines the Morning Star
Kids’ Gift: Christmas shirts/dress Olympic rings to hang from the basement ceiling
Sunday, 12.12.21 Sunday Soup Supper
Menu: Chicken taco soup (chicken breasts cooked in enchilada sauce in the instant pot; then after that was shredded, added black beans, yellow corn, onions, crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, and seasonings; simmered for an hour – topped with sour cream and shredded cheese) Chips (anybody else love Juanita’s?) & salsa Bread & jam (homemade all the way) Cinnamon coffee cake (needed to be gluten free, so I went with a Krusteaz box that is a winner) topped with vanilla ice cream & salted caramel (left over from previous gingerbread sundaes)
Rested with: delightful friends the big kids played incredibly beautifully together the toddlers didn’t burn down the house or need stitches we parents got to sip wine and share stories we laughed, and at one point I almost cried we talked about books… lots of books we toasted and ate chocolate truffles we sang the Doxology around the table the kids pulled party poppers watched a family movie (Beethoven, anyone?!) while nibbling cheese & apples ate snickerdoodles made by Autumn Creek Bakery
Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free, From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee: Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art, Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a king, Born to reign in us for ever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring: By Thy own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone, By Thy all-sufficient merit Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Longing, expecting, hoping, asking. These are overarching themes during the season of Advent. (And as I look for words to share about the hope before and behind us, I land on some thoughts from Peter Leithart, a friend of my father… many of the following are his.)
Advent hymns, unsurprisingly, are full of longing, and the language of the prophets. Advent hymns are about Israel’s desperations and hope, and specifically hope that the Christ would come in order to keep God’s promise to restore His people, and through them to restore the nations.
Advent hymns look forward not just to heaven but the redemption of Israel and of the nations, the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.
Our hope is in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:19; Ephesians 1:12). Christ in us is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Christ’s resurrection is the target of Abrahamic faith, he who hoped against hope for resurrection, for new life to come from his dead body (Romans 4:18). Hoping in God’s promise, he didn’t consider his own impotence looked for the impossible.
Jesus is the one who reveals the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13). He is the incarnation of the God of hope, the God whom Jeremiah addresses as the “hope of Israel” (Jeremiah 14:8; 17:13; 50:7). Only Jesus ensures whatever future we look forward to.
This Christ-centered hope gets misaligned if we separate hope for Christ’s coming from hope for His body, for ourselves. It’s true that the coming kingdom is Christ’s. But Christ is head of a body, and so the coming kingdom is also ours. The Christian hope is that the saints in Christ will reach their ultimate maturity as human beings, the fullness of our Adamic calling.
Advent isn’t supposed to soothe us. It doesn’t teach us to be stoic in the face of the irreparable damage of the world. It doesn’t teach us to be piously hopeless. It teaches us to have a hope that is irreversibly entwined with faith. Advent celebrates the Creator’s arrival to repair the damage of sin, judging and making new. Advent comforts because it promises final restoration, justice, and peace. Advent encourages us to persevere in trials and injustice because it demonstrates that God has pledged to make all things new. Advent unveils a God so determined to fulfill His purpose that He did not spare His own Son but freely delivered Him up for us all.
Isaiah 8:17 says, “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” In the very next chapter, Isaiah 9, we read that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” THIS is hope. This is the promise. The Savior came! And He is ruling at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again. We long for Him and we expect Him. Therefore, even as the Israelites looked forward with hope, so do we. Jesus, the God who became incarnate, IS our hope.
This weekend was particularly special because we got to attend a local school’s performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever along with my parents, my grandma, and my brother’s family. It always feels special to attend a performance, even if you are sitting on folding chairs in a school gym and the mics are popping intermittently. The kids genuinely thought it was magical. And the young actors did such a great job, it had me feeling rather childlike and giddy myself! Shazzzam! (If you know, you know.) And because it was getting late in the afternoon by the time the show ended, it was pretty easy to convince my brother’s family to join the rest of us for the formal Advent Feast this week! That’s a highlight of the entire season right there. We squeezed in an extra table into the dining room so all seventeen of us could toast and sing and read and feast together. God is good.
After church on Sunday, we got to invite two young couples with small toddlers over, plus a single gent new to our church & neighborhood. It was fun to share stories about how we met spouses, where we spent childhoods, and how we are each differently navigating current affairs in our broader culture but rooted here in a tiny country town. That evening, I got to take my older four children to a dance – jigs, reels, swings, two-step… my kids were absolutely loving it. It’s a step in the direction of being countercultural… and I’m eager to continue down that path with my kids. When your six year old asks your forty-something year old friend to dance with him, you know you’re doing something right.
Saturday, 12.4.21 Family Advent Feast
Menu: Lasagna (ground beef & Italian sausage, simple marinara, ricotta & egg & herbs, shredded mozzarella, al dente noodles… made a day before for a simple Saturday) Garlic Bread (simple white loaves, sliced and slathered with garlic butter, and warmed up wrapped in tin foil) Caesar Salad (went easy, used store bought kits) Gingerbread Sundaes (maybe I’ll get around to sharing my recipe sometime… because it’s the best gingerbread ever! Topped with vanilla ice cream and homemade salted caramel for a hearty dollop & drizzle; garnish with a shard of Heath.)
Reading: Every Moment Holy, liturgy for the start of the Christmas season
Carols: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Kids’ Gift: four movie DVDs, which were $5 apiece on Amazon (totally worth it even if we only watch each once)
Sunday, 11.5.21 Second Sunday Supper of Advent
Menu: Chili (beef, onion, garlic, four kinds of beans, tomatoes, broth, red wine, dark beer, cocoa powder, espresso, cinnamon, chili, cumin, salt, pepper…) Rice (rice, water, bouillon, butter – in the instant pot) Green Salad (recipe from Magnolia Kitchen cookbook) Sourdough Bread (with soft butter) Gingerbread Sundaes, reprise (because once is never enough)
Rested With: fellowship with friends laughter around the table kids enjoyed screen time adult conversation hearing new friends’ life stories putting toddler down for a nap taking big kids to a folk dance teaching some folk dances watching my children delight in dance wine and snacks with my hubby
Two family birthdays and Thanksgiving Day AND a family tradition of tree hunting & homemade donuts… it was all packed into a handful of days this year. It makes for a good kind of chaos and girding up of the loins for all the celebration. Of course, it was bookended with illness in my home, which just added to both the crazy and the exhaustion… but God’s grace was poured on like the best gravy. This life is a gift, and celebrating the start of a new Church Year is absolutely something to treasure. So we pursue this. We cultivate it. We dig in. And it is very good.
Saturday, 11.27 Family Advent Feast
Menu: Started with Lindt chocolate truffles and a toast with merlot to King Jesus when we lit the Hope candle Red Wine Tri Tip Steaks (used this for inspiration, but tweaked it like I always do…) Mushroom risotto (my daughter loves to make this… but we don’t use a recipe… we just go by method, look, and taste) Roasted veg (olive oil, s&p, garlic powder, Italian herbs; brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, beets, and red onion) Garlic pull-apart bread (used this for inspiration, then made it monkey-bread-style using a butter-olive-oil-s&p-crushed-garlic-Italian-herbs mixture for dipping each piece of dough) Salted Caramel Cheesecake (used this recipe for the most part, but used Nilla wafers for the crust. And added a fat pinch of sea salt to each layer of this, because DUH. Extra pink salt in the caramel as well.)
Readings: Every Moment Holy, liturgy for the start of the Christmas season Isaiah 9:2-7 Poem, Advent Calendar by Rowan Williams
Carols: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus Savior of the Nations, Come O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Kids’ Gift: Stratego, 1986 version
Sunday, 11.28 Sunday Soup Supper
Menu: Creamy tomato soup (in my instant pot) Grilled cheese sandwiches (36 of them, sliced into halves) Green salad with balsamic vinaigrette Sliced honeycrisp apples Double chocolate brownies with toffee & sprinkles on top
Rested with: Fellowship with friends Honoring my husband’s birthday Sharing a meal Disposable dishes Playing Fishbowl with all ages Handel’s Messiah on CD Singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel in harmony
Happy New Year, Church! That’s right: with the dawn of Advent season comes the new start of the liturgical year. While I did not grow up from the cradle with a big emphasis on the Church Year, my parents were naturally very purposed about setting aside certain things for celebration and observance. There was a definite cyclical rhythm to our year, mostly informed by Christian holidays and weekly Sunday habits, even though I am not sure my mom would have been able to direct you to any books or church traditions for their origin or information. It simply came naturally to her! She has always been good at decorating, showing hospitality, feeding people, and celebrating holy events with simple festivity. Actually, let’s be real: Mama has not always jumped into festivity with simplicity. She can cook up and decorate with incredible flair, detail, abundance, and bounty. As a child, when it came to holidays, I never doubted that our cup overflowed. But it was my mother who taught me by example that celebration & hospitality are both extremely flexible, and that there is just as much value & delight in the simple as in the extravagant. Mama showed me that there are different blessings attendant in those different expressions.
Now as the mama in my own home, I seek to train my children in a similar way… and I try to do it as she did: by action and example rather than by words and description.
Peter Leithart said: “We don’t keep the rhythms of the church calendar out of traditionalism. We mark time Christianly in order to honor Jesus, the Lord of ages whose Advent starts a new age of human history. We observe the church calendar to evangelize time.”
One of my favorite times to do this is during the season of Advent, which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I have written about this before, but I will share it again this year, because it is always good to share ideas for cultivating a family culture bursting with feasting and joy and multi-generational fellowship. I honestly can’t remember how many years we have been doing this, but my children have no memory of NOT marking Advent in this way… so it is definitely a notable part of our family culture.
Each Sunday of Advent is kicked off for our family by an open invitation to any of our family members (my parents always come, my grandma frequently comes, and my brother’s family has come a couple times) to join us for an Advent Feast on the Saturday evening prior. This is the big meal of the week, where I use our fancy dishes, light extra candles and use ironed linens, make time-consuming meals or things which require special ingredients. We always toast our glasses, cheers to the King! with wine (or sparkling cider), starting the meal with Lindt chocolate truffles and ending it with some kind of sumptuous dessert. We read Scripture, a liturgy, and/or poetry. We sing Advent hymns in harmony around the table. We give our children one group gift at each Saturday feast (books, board games, videos, matching jammies…).
On Saturday, while cooking for the family Advent Feast, I also prep for Sunday… because on each Sunday of Advent, we invite friends over (we aim for two families each Sunday – and then if someone has to cancel last-minute we still have fellowship to look forward to) for a simple meal and afternoon of fellowship. The meal format is almost always soup, bread, and cookies. All of it can be made ahead on Saturday, easily heated up after church, and can be added to (sliced apples? cheese plate? green salad?) if our guests offer to bring something for the meal. I also often opt for disposable dishes, in order to make clean-up extra easy. It not only makes friends feel welcome & at-home without worrying about breaking Great-Grandma’s china, but also enables me not to have two hours’ worth of dishes to wash afterward. We like to play board games or group games with our friends, and often sing some Advent or Christmas carols. Again, we start our meal with a piece of chocolate and a toast to the coming King!
It’s not that it doesn’t take a lot of prep, planning, work, and money… but it feels simple and predictable, completely doable and entirely special.
This is one more of those little “glimpses of paideia,” where we are teaching our children through our family habits and purposed culture about what we believe is important. Where ought our focus be? How should we spend our season of Advent? There is no one right way to do it. This is simply the way that my family has cultivated a practice and a love. It folds in people from our church, our homeschool co op, our family members. It involves food and music and books and gifts. It points us toward Christmas without making us go crazy. It gives boundaries to our plans, so we do not overschedule. It brings our hearts back to Incarnation. Which is really another topic for another post another time…
For now, let me simply leave you with a few links with suggestions for posts and books which I have found enculturating for myself over recent years as I have sought to cultivate a family tradition of marking Advent – this anticipation of the miraculous so extraordinarily astounding that it has been the beginning for the historical church for centuries.
Why do we celebrate? Why do we have traditions around things like birthdays and holidays and seasons and the Church calendar? These are not commanded celebrations or traditions, to be sure, but they are gifts to myself and my family and those whom we embrace in hospitality. God loves to show abundance in His kindness and mercy in His remembering. As image-bearers, I think it is particularly beautiful when we seek to copy Him in this abundance and mercy. If I have an opportunity to be kind, let me be showing it with abandon. If I have an opportunity to remember, let me do so with an active mercy to all around me.
As the wife and mother in my household, I get to set the tenor and timbre of most of the family traditions and celebrations we pursue (especially those we ultimately keep), and this is a huge privilege as well as honor. I want to do it with joy! But does that mean that, in order for it to bear good fruit, I also need to have a facade of happy whimsy or only put my hands to this work when I am feeling full of glee? No indeed.
As the tradition-maker, tradition-leader, tradition-keeper in our home, I get to set my hands, my mind, my heart, and my attitude toward the principle of joy in these things whether it comes naturally or not. I won’t seek to cultivate traditions that nobody likes or enjoys or remembers fondly, nor will I seek to be legalistic about traditions. Birthdays happen whether we have a cake, blow out a candle after singing a certain song, give gifts, or not. The only thing necessary for a birthday is to have a birth followed by a passage of time. My husband turns 38 today regardless of whether or not I made him a cake and gave him a gift. But I did those things because I love him, and we happen to keep those traditions in our family… I knew it would bless him if I kept those habits.
And with other traditions, this is likewise true. Tomorrow is the first day of Advent (which begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas), although some of our Advent traditions won’t start until two days later, because some things just do 25 days in December. Both work just fine for me, and help me lead in gently. I can wade in each year without just throwing myself off an unseen sandbar. Advent does not necessitate nor imply drowning.
The Church calendar still begins the new year tomorrow, whether I mark it or not. There will be a candle lit in its honor at our morning worship service whether we light one at home or not. Christmas is still coming! We can’t keep it back! Even the world around us knows that they can’t stop it from coming. Just ask the Grinch. The Light has come: darkness has been shattered.
But in my love of Advent, I have gathered up some traditions through my years as the keeper at home. Keeping in line with our family’s deepest loves and culture-cornerstones, our traditions with Advent center primarily around books, music, food, and hospitality.
I am going to share some of our Advent traditions here this year. From recipes to poetry to devotional stories artwork, it is good to Mark what one’s own pursuits are as well as to learn from those of others around you.
One of our Advent traditions that starts today for us is our weekly Advent Dinner. On Saturday night, we kick off the next week of Advent with an upscaled dinner complete with chocolates, wine, readings & singing, and a group gift for the children. My parents live next door, so they have an open invitation to join us, and sometimes my grandma comes as well. It is full of candles and sparkle and my great-grandma’s china dishes. Then on Sundays after corporate worship at church, we have a family or two over for a simple lunch coupled with robust fellowship.
To start off my sharing this week, here were our menus: