On the 19th day of Advent, Guideposts founder Norman Vincent Peale reminds us that this is a time of anticipation, of preparation, of celebration.
A wreath with blazing candles, children building a miniature crèche, an old lady in a little Texas town pondering the “special” gifts she wants to give—these are the pictures in my mind as we move into the four weeks of Advent every year.
This is a spiritual season, of course, a time when the mind and heart turn not only to celebrate but to “making ready the way of the Lord.”
There are all kinds of things we can do to remind ourselves of the spiritual side of Christmas, not just in church, but at home as well. I like to see a manger scene become a family construction project, and I like the idea of creating homemade religious ornaments for the tree.
The custom of the Advent wreath, found most often today in Lutheran and Catholic homes, is particularly appealing. This is a wreath with four candles standing in a circle of seasonal greens. Sometimes the wreath is fitted with ribbons so it can be hung, but I like it best as a centerpiece for the dining room table.
A Baptist family in Hightstown, New Jersey, has a permanent Advent wreath. I know this because of a letter I received recently from Mary Ann Bohrs. “Each Sunday of Advent,” she wrote, “we light a new candle until, by Christmas, all four candles are blazing. Then each evening we light the candles again and read the ancient prophecies.”
What a wonderful sight! Can’t you picture that family, Harry and Mary Ann and their two little boys gathered around the table, the candlelight flickering dramatically, every one of them listening intently to those tremendous Old Testament words?
Those are words that make you sense the long centuries of waiting, that make you experience a mounting excitement about His coming...The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord.—Isaiah 40:3 And the tension grows in that family until there comes at last that quiet moment in the Gospels when...a child is born in Bethlehem...
Mrs. Bohrs closed her letter to me in a lovely way. “As I put our Christmas decorations back in the attic each year,” she said, “I pray that the Lord Jesus be in our lives, not just in our festivals, not just over the mantel, but in our hearts.”
Certainly it is our hearts that provide the key to Christmas each year. In this respect, I often think of a lady I never even met, a lady named Mrs. Mason. Virginia Rootes Juergens of Dallas, Texas, wrote a story about her and her creative approach to the holiday.
Mrs. Mason, it seems, lived in the small Texas town where Virginia grew up. Mrs. Mason was an elderly woman with very little money, but her Christmas preparations were extravagant.
Weeks before Christmas every year, she plotted and planned for what she called her “Lordly gifts.” Wandering around the little town, the old lady would select three people to give a gift to, three people from whom she expected nothing in return. A lot of thought would go into each present, a lot of work, a lot of self-denial—and a lot of pleasure.
“I just can’t think of my third Lordly gift,” Mrs. Mason said to Virginia one time when she visited the Mason cottage during this period of preparation. “You know, child, we have to give something worthy. Don’t forget, it’s the birthday of God’s Son.”
That year Mrs. Mason had decided already on a pair of shoes for her first gift and had saved the necessary money. Her second gift was to be a week’s mending of a poor family’s clothes. (Mrs. Mason did not disclose the names of the recipients-to-be.) But her third gift, as always, seemed to give Mrs. Mason trouble. “I just can’t think of anything, child,” she said to Virginia, “at least nothing Lordly.”
Before Christmas, of course, just as Virginia knew she would, Mrs. Mason made her momentous decision and carried it through. “Only later did I discover what her gift was,” Mrs. Juergens wrote. “She came in three afternoons a week to ‘baby-sit’ (a term unknown then) and helped my sister Helen and me make cookies while my hard-working teacher-mother was away.”
Mrs. Mason knew what Christmas was all about. She approached it seriously and gaily, indeed it was a birthday to her, and her gifts were Lordly because they were gifts to the Christ Child. No one had to tell Mrs. Mason, "As ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."—Matthew 25:40
So Christmas is coming again. This year during these meaningful weeks of Advent, let’s all bring out the trappings of the holiday, but let’s keep in mind what significance they can have just as the Bohrs family does with its Advent wreath.
This year let’s prepare for Christmas as Mrs. Mason did, as we would for “the birthday of God’s Son.” Let’s be creative. And let’s make ready our homes, our hearts, our world, to receive Him.
This story first appeared in the December 1968 edition of Guideposts.