In college a friend told me she welcomes the seasons—even celebrates them. I’m sure I nodded to look cool, “I totally get that.” (Not likely.) I’m getting older now, with definitely more wrinkles and possibly more maturity, but finally I get it. Now I too celebrate the seasons.

For me, this celebrating of the seasons is more than pumpkin spice lattes and tall boots—it’s about worship. God has been about the business of seasonality for a long time. He’s the One who set the Old Testament festivities for his glory and our good when we were just being introduced to his character. By way of introduction, the Old Testament Jews were given Passover, Purim, and the Feast of Booths—just to name a few. Through them it’s as if he said, Allow me to introduce myself. And once you understand me a little bit more you’re going to want to worship me—so here’s how you do it, and here’s how you celebrate who I am and the story I am writing.

On this side of the cross, we have tremendous Christian liberty and holiday celebratory leeway as we walk around indwelt with Christ himself—the personification of the Temple, Jesus—abiding in our very hearts. In John 2:19 Jesus referred to himself as the temple, and 2 Corinthians 6:16 pulls from Leviticus 26:11-12 to explain how this indwelling extends to us, “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’”

For the Mackle household, living out this radical indwelling shows up as celebratory freedom in how we embrace the seasons and find God’s hand all over them. For us, it means we crank up the Wicked soundtrack and hoot and holler at our local elementary school’s scarecrow display as we drive past it in October, hang the “Thankful” banner in November, and play reindeer games during December. It’s a representation of our family—an amalgamation of tradition, abject silliness, and gospel opportunity as each of those traditions has led a time or twelve to a full-hearted family discussion on evil’s pursuit of us, God’s provision for his people, or his providential care of his children.

(What’s reindeer games, you say? Well I’m so glad you asked. But I’ll have to explain later . . .)

Examining the Why Behind the How

It turns out how we choose to celebrate Advent has far less to do with anything than the why behind what we choose. We see in Matthew 15 as Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisees and scribes that what matters to him is more what proceeds out of the heart than the specifics of what goes in. Eating with unwashed hands is not the offense, but rather the judgment, gossip, impure thoughts and motives, or slander that comes out of our own. How has this translated into our Advent lives? Do we feel eyebrow-raise-y or even downright judgmental toward what another family chooses to do (or not do) during Advent? Do we wonder how another hasn’t chosen the very thing that we have? Do we feel guilty if we don’t attend the right Lessons in Carols services, purchase the best Christmas Eve dresses, or give the most meaningful present?

I hope we can all examine our why’s and determine what’s important to us personally and as a family. Beyond attending regular worship services (Heb. 10:25), we have very few explicit instructions as Christians indwelt by the risen Lord. Rather, life post-resurrection looks like more of a holistic invitation for us to lives of freedom, grace, creativity, and delighted obedience. It looks more like a whole-hearted, loving response to Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

For me, this post-resurrection eyesight at the holidays means dying to some of my own desires. I have zero interest and negative talent in building gingerbread houses—but my girlies do. My why is that it matters to me that our girls feel seen and honored when it comes to their input on family tradition. So every year I slog 10 pounds of inedible candy out of the Target aisle and home to our dining room table. And every year we spend a messy afternoon constructing a structurally inviable gingerbread house that no self-respecting Keebler elf would find himself within 50 yards of. For gospel discussion it’s a layup—who in their right mind would build their “house” upon our gingerbread structure. You’re far safer to seek out the Rock, and as our gingerbread house crumbles before our eyes, perhaps nothing plants this truth more deeply in all of our hearts.

From Structure to Freedom

Just as in parenting our children, God moved in the course of redemptive history from a position of control to a position of influence. God moved from a paradigm of structure in the Old Testament to a framework of freedom in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, God allowed us to see the depth of our need as a people, allowing us to realize we need his rule and reign in every part of our lives. (Gen. 6:5) In the New Testament with the advent of Christ, it’s as if God asks the invitational question, Now, how do we flesh out this need? The dependence is the very same, yet the applications look a little different post-resurrection.

As we examine our Advent practices as individuals and families in light of this post-resurrection freedom, the question to ask might be, “Does what we are putting into our hearts at Advent feed hearts that disperse goodness, kindness, and truth? Does it aid us in discipling the hearts of our children? Does what we intake help us to focus on the meaning of Christmas?” To these questions our answers are highly likely to vary, and blessedly so. And I don’t know about you, but I’m so thankful for some Advent leeway. So whatever your Christmas tradition looks like, whether you do a Jesse Tree or an Advent wreath, go caroling, buy gifts for an Angel Tree—or abstain from all these things—remember the why of what you do and don’t do, and live in the joy of our freedom in honoring and celebrating the Christ-child born to save.

Editor’s Note: Holly Mackle’s new no-stress, interactive family Advent experience, Connected Christmas, will teach your family how to play the Christmas car game, Reindeer Games, to see who in your family is most adept at spotting Christmas car paraphernalia. Both Connected Christmas and her more traditional family Advent devotional, Little Hearts, Prepare Him Room, are available at pcabookstore.com.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Holly Mackle

Holly Mackle is the curator of the mom humor collaboration Same Here, Sisterfriend, Mostly True Tales of Misadventures in Motherhood, author of the family Advent devotional Little Hearts, Prepare Him Room, and editor at engagingmotherhood.com. She is the wife of a handsome man, mama of two flower-sneaking bitties, and a fairly decent gardener and hopefully better humorist for joegardener.com. She spends most of her free time explaining to her two young girls why their hair will not do exactly what Queen Elsa’s does.