Monday, November 24, 2014

Make Your Own Advent Calendar: Finishing Touches

{Are you making your own family Advent Calendar to teach your children the Christmas story?  Good for you!  Time for the finishing touches!  
Click here for Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3…}

Making Your Own Advent Calendar: Finishing Touches

Getting Started…

Gather your supplies:

  • wooden dowel the width of your calendar plus 2" either end for hanging
  • Christmas ribbon for hanging
  • gold felt and red permanent marker for verse, if desired

Add Luke 2:11 to your calendar (Optional)…

1. If desired, cut out a rectangular piece of gold felt the same size as the back of the folded-up storage section of your Advent Calendar.  

2. With a red permanent marker, print Luke 2:11 on the gold rectangle.  

3. Glue the rectangle upside down on the back of your felt background, so when you fold up your storage section the verse will appear right-side up.

Hanging Your Advent Calendar…

1. Sew a straight seam along the safety-pinned allowance at the top of your piece of background felt.

2. Slide the dowel in, making sure it's long enough to stick out 1.5 - 2 inches on each end. (My "dowel" is a backyard stick - I have to trim the knots off first! ;)

3. Tie a pretty Christmas ribbon around each end of the dowel, making sure your knots are tight enough so the ribbon won't slide in towards the center.

4. Hang your Advent Calendar!  

{If you included the verse on the back, it's your choice whether you fold up the storage section every day to show the verse, or whether you leave it unfolded until December 25 and have your kids fold it up for the first time on Christmas Day to display the verse under the finished manger scene.}


{For a free copy of the Christmas story divided into 25 pieces, email me at  

Include a photo of your finished calendar, if you want - I’d love to see it!}

Christmas Devotional

Here's the story of my evening four years ago, November 2010, as I carried out the above instructions:

Out back, in our borrowed apple orchard, my husband hacks off a branch for me from one of the little apple trees.  “Long enough?” he asks.  I bring it in, the ice melting off its underside from the warmth of my hand.  Feeling decidedly rustic, I sit with a kitchen knife and chip off buds along its length, smoothing the rough places.  

I choose a reasonably smooth 70cm length from the middle - not too fat, not too thin.  I clip each end with secateurs, try to get a clean cut.  

I slide the stick into the sewn tube at the top of my felt Advent Calendar background.  A bit rough-looking, but it’ll do the job - and I didn’t even slice my finger (came close a couple times, though!).  

I sweep up the shavings, and think about Joseph being a carpenter.  About the beautiful cradle he might have made for Mary’s baby’s birth.  About the simple, rustic manger in which he had to lay Jesus instead, aware at some level that Jesus was much more than his natural son, that He was infinitely special.  

Did Joseph mourn the lowliness of the manger, cursing the Roman decree that dragged them so far away from home at this most inconvenient time?  Or was the manger well-crafted - did Joseph rejoice that the boy to be raised as a carpenter had good carpenter’s craft for his bed?  Did he even think of it at all, so thankful he was for the safe delivery of this precious gift, for a place to lay the baby that lifted him off the cold dirt floor and the mice and rats?

James and I listen to our Sunday night sermon.  I sew velcro on the backs of “frankincense” and “myrrh”, still missing a square gold button for the “gold”.  No trip to the bazar this morning as planned: everyone sick with colds, huddled up away from the snow, drinking soup and hot tea and taking long naps.  The gold button will have to wait.

My needle pokes and pulls, and John Piper describes the afflictions of Christ, in a sermon from Romans we chose at random.  A Christmas sermon.  Born as an illegitimate child, Jesus carried that slur all his life.  The Pharisees threw it in his face.  Forced to flee as a refugee almost immediately after he was born, barely escaped with his life; spent the first two years of his life sojourning in Egypt, grew up listening to a foreign tongue as his first language.  

“Let’s have a balanced Christmas celebration,” urges Piper, unpacking Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  Rejoice in hope, Paul says, but that joy is an embattled joy, under constant attack from inside and outside.  Piper quotes the angel’s words, “I bring you good news of GREAT joy!” and adds, “That little baby grew up and said, ‘I have not come to bring peace but a sword… and a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”  

Sufferings are normal.  If you don’t have any right now, you will.  And the thing is, we rejoice in our sufferings, not just in spite of them, because we know what sufferings do: they produce endurance.  “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  (Rom. 5:3-5)

So… a worn-out furnace, a broken door lock, a leaky sink, a surprise visit from our landlady when I’m still in my pajamas, relationship struggles, sickness, sleepless nights, feelings of futility and fruitlessness… all these are  actually gifts, to be rejoiced in?

“We have a God who doesn’t just defeat the enemy, but turns that enemy into the servant of our faith.  Every tribulation that comes your way has a design from Satan, and a different design from God,” says Piper.  

“All our tribulation drives the roots of our joy into hope.  For the Christian, the best is always yet to come.  An hour before you die, the best is yet to come.  The minute you wake up on the other side of death, the best is yet to come.  After 10 million years of reveling in God’s presence, the best is still yet to come.  In a profound sense, rejoicing for the Christian will always be in hope: the best is always yet to come!”

I stitch and sew and poke at the buttons for the wise men's gifts, and I think about these gifts the wise men are bringing to Jesus.  I listen to Piper close his sermon by asking, “So, what would the wise men answer when they’re told to “rejoice in hope”?  They’ve got everything: gold, frankincense, nice clothes, elephants to ride on… What does a man like that say when he’s told, “Rejoice in hope”?  When he’s got so much around him to rejoice in?”

Piper answers his own question: 

We are given good gifts to enjoy - but only as gifts from God, and as pointers to God as the ultimate satisfaction of your soul.  All the pleasure in life - sex, food, relationships, thrills, more stuff - is created only to point you to Jesus.  You will barely remember it when what it is pointing to is given you in the age to come.  So don’t embrace the gifts as ends; send your heart flying to the Giver to embrace Jesus as the ultimate joy of your life - then the gifts won’t become idols.”

The goal and ground of my hope is Jesus Himself: the glory of God, shining in the face of Christ.  He is my Gift.  Do I really want Him as my treasure, more than I want anything else this Christmas?  

I glue this verse onto the back of my calendar: “Unto you is born this day… a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) 

I glue the verse on upside down, since it will hang on the back of the calendar until December 25, when the last piece is put in place and we fold up the bottom of the calendar, now empty, to reveal the verse on the back.  

I think about gifts, and idols, and the Giver, and Advent, the season of waiting for the coming of Christ, the upside-down King of an upside-down kingdom.  

And I remember a quote from Ann I read earlier today:

“Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience: thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life.  ‘He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God’ (Psalm 50:23 NIV).  Thanksgiving--giving thanks in everything--prepares the way that God might show us his fullest sacrifice in Christ.”  

~Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Advent is about preparing the way.  And how best to prepare the way?  To rejoice.  To give thanks, even for trials.  To receive each element of each day, the good, the “bad” and the ugly, as a gift to be given thanks for.  To sacrifice thank offerings. 

Thanks is really the only gift I can give back to Jesus this Christmas, and in giving it daily, my heart will be prepared for seeing God’s showing of His salvation.

I tie red ribbon around the ends of my stick, like I’m wrapping a present, and stand back to look at my finished Advent Calendar: the scene it shows, God’s Gift to us entering the world, is only the beginning.

The Wise Men knew their gifts weren’t enough; they offered them, and then “they bowed low and worshiped.”  

The coming of the Gift invites worship; and the giving of thanks returns worship unto the Giver.  

Merry CHRISTmas!


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