“But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Matthew 6:33
With excitement we reserved our space at “Advent Day,” a new tradition started in our parish about five years ago. Not knowing exactly what to expect, we joined the crowds in the cafeteria and settled in to see what the day would bring. Different speakers stood up to discuss putting Jesus in center of our Advent preparations, stressing the difference between arriving at the 25th of December and arriving at CHRISTMAS. It was inspiring, but what really brought home the true theme was when they introduced another tradition into our parish – the J.O.Y. Box.
The J.O.Y. Box was to be a box that traveled from home to home throughout Advent. Each family would have it for a night to use in their devotion and then would pass it on to the next person. What a wonderful way to prepare our hearts, homes, and families for the coming of our Savior! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
J.O.Y. stands for Jesus, Others, Yourself. In today’s world, we are pressured by secular society to please ourselves first – the culture of instant gratification. All too often, “instant gratification” is anything BUT, leaving the person constantly seeking to fill that empty void with more material possessions or undesirable behavior. Putting Jesus first in our lives allows Him to guide us, showing us the way through our lives, our troubles, our successes, all done in Him, with Him, and through Him. The result? True peace, true happiness, true joy.
Jesus tells us that when we serve others, we serve Him. (Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40) Putting others ahead of ourselves helps us to focus on our Savior, who humbled Himself to be born as a baby in a manger.
So, we signed up to take the J.O.Y. Box home, inspired by our day of prayer and devotion. When it was our turn, we opened the box. It contains a simple nativity, hand-carved out of wood, a tablecloth, four votive candles, and readings (a script of sorts) to do together. We start by setting everything up and open with a song. (Our family loves to sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”) That first year, our children were so young that my husband and I took turns reading. Of course, children grow up quickly. Three of our five children are now avid readers, so we can pass it around listening to everyone have a turn reading. Part of the devotion is to bring a “treasure” to the table. Listening to the children discuss why the particular item is a treasure to them is enlightening. Typically, they bring toys or books, but their reasoning touches our hearts. Going around the table listening to each other gives us a chance to learn so much about each other. We close with another song and pack away the box for the next family. A journal accompanies the box, allowing each family to connect to both past and future, sharing their own experiences. We include a small gift for the next family – hot cocoa, popcorn or a small ornament, something that hopefully helps to facilitate their J.O.Y. box time.
The J.O.Y. Box has been a wonderful addition to our family’s Advent traditions, forcing us to take an evening “off” from the secular world and the Christmas preparations and helping us to refocus on the season of Advent. Giving us this refreshed perspective helps us to arrive at CHRISTmas rather than just getting to December 25th.
Let us pray: Thank you, God, for Jesus. Help us to remember what a great treasure You sent to us two thousand years ago. Remind us to be gifts of love to each other in our family living. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.