Living Christmas Well

Seasoning the celebration with the disciplines of Advent by Laurel Archer 

Looking toward Christmas through the lens of Advent helps me face the reality of my life and gives me courage to live that reality well. For my family, reality includes autism. 

advent            Both of our children have autism spectrum disorder. But it was our son who became overwhelmed by the celebration of Christmas. It was typical Christmas stuff: house guests, a disrupted routine and the overall colourful chaos. He was nine, functionally non-verbal and, unfortunately, unequipped to cope with his pent-up anxiety. He began to self-injure. We sent relatives home early, shut down the celebration, and began a horrendous three-year journey as our son spun in and out of self-injurious behaviour. 

            Even before this, Christmas had been challenging. We resorted to having the tree up for less than a week to reduce the total impact. Gift exchange was disheartening because neither of the kids took any interest in opening presents, or even in the contents; so we all but eliminated that as well. And the “real meaning” of Christmas didn’t translate to our two non-verbal children either. So, after that particular Christmas, we couldn’t pretend to celebrate in the same way again. 

            What I was unwilling to let go of, however, was Jesus. He had entered messy human history, and I believed that Jesus had every intention of being present in our family—even if we couldn’t put up a tree and have a party. While casting around for alternatives, I began to turn my attention to Advent.

            In comparison to the feast of Christmas, Advent is a fast. It temporarily veils the party of Christmas. The intention isn’t to mute Christmas, but to infuse Christmas with so much meaning that the feasting makes sense. It invites you to reflect rather than revel.

Whether or not you decide to adjust your vocabulary and call these days before Christmas Advent, I’d invite you to consider two benefits of observing Advent that I find strengthen my life and faith.

            First, Advent slows down the approach of Christmas. Not literally, of course. Christmas still marches in at the same pace by the clock. But if Advent is attended to with the heart, the pace of the season changes. 

            Maybe, like me, you have allowed a beautiful sunrise to escape your notice because of a stressful appointment scheduled later in the day. But appointments come whether or not we give them all our attention. We can choose, even if it’s just for a moment, to allow beauty to overrule the anticipated anxiety of that later meeting. When we do, we reclaim time and live in the present moment more fully than we if we were focusing on the anxiety. 

            Attending to Advent is like choosing to look at the sunrise again and again instead of allowing the anxiety of a meeting to dominate our thoughts. The meeting still exists. Christmas, with all its hubbub, is coming. But attending to the rhythms of Advent keeps the secular din of Christmas from robbing us of the richness that the Spirit has prepared for us in Jesus. There is no point to the hubbub if He is forgotten.

            How can we manage this? There are formal ways of observing Advent, but I believe there is beauty in the repetitive moments of life—daily opportunities to slow time. Maybe your morning coffee becomes a sacred space in the days prior to Christmas. Perhaps before you leave your office, you close the door and in the stillness consider how you feel about the pressure and the promise of Christmas. It doesn’t have to be much when it is attached to a repetitive task. A small change made well makes space for the company of Jesus, who is God with us.  

            Second, the vocabulary of Advent allows me expressions of lament. Celebrating Christmas doesn’t mean that pain is on holiday. Autism is still a daily reality for our family; denying that is simply unwise. We need look no further than our own hearts to know that loss and pain are more acutely felt at Christmas. What if we didn’t have to deny them in order to celebrate well? What if our longings, our losses and our loneliness were an invitation into what Jesus’ birth was meant to satisfy?

            The themes of Advent give voice to our pain, our disappointments and our losses. Advent’s twin themes of expectation and fulfilment are reflected on from two perspectives. The first perspective is the promise of the Messiah and its fulfilment in Jesus. This theme pivots on joy and is fully expressed in the Christmas celebration. The second perspective is the promise of the return of Jesus. This theme pivots on hope and carries with it all that is not right in the world. It’s heavy with the lament, “How long, O Lord?”

…attending to the rhythms of Advent keeps the secular din of Christmas from robbing us of the richness that the Spirit has prepared for us in Jesus.

            Giving depth and breadth to these themes are the stories of biblical women and men who wrestled with the presence and promises of God in their lives. Beneath the greater themes, the private themes of struggle, loss, pain, impatience and sorrow always flow. We learn from their stories how best to posture ourselves in these sorrows as we wait for Jesus, who came to bear them all. We cry out, along with the Psalmist, in response to all the disappointments and misadventures of our lives: “My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119:81).

            When we have given voice to these realities, we can come unburdened to the table of feasting—whether it’s turkey and trimmings or a tuna melt after a long day alone—and ask humbly: “In your unfailing love preserve my life, that I may obey the statutes of your mouth” (Psalm 119:88).

             Now, when Christmas winds up, the Archers wind down. While parties are being planned, we decide how to quietly content ourselves, leaning into the mysteries of the Advent season for clues about how to celebrate Christmas well.  


Laurel Archer attends Christian Life Assembly in Langley, BC. She now gives full-time attention to her home to accommodate the changing needs of her family. You can follow her Advent Blog Toward Christmas at

This article appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of testimony, a bi-monthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2013 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

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