by Scott James
Are you familiar with the practice of catechesis? It’s a simple tool Christian churches and parents have used for centuries to help instruct children in the truths of the faith. The catechism we use in my family starts off this way:
Q1. Who made you? A. God made me.
Q2. What else did God make? A. God made all things.
Q3. From what did God make all things? A. From nothing.
Q4. Why did God make all things? A. For His glory.
My children know these questions by heart. They mark the familiar beginning of a larger set of questions our family has been reciting together since my oldest son was a toddler. As God has grown our family over the years, each new child begins the process over again as we ask them the modest question, “Who made you?” Of course, the older kids are able to press farther into the set of questions, learning core tenets of biblical truth all along the way.
As we have continued to review these questions over the years, I have noticed an interesting pattern. Instead of outgrowing the more basic questions at the beginning of our catechism, the older children are frequently impacted in fresh ways by questions and concepts they once assumed they had already mastered. It’s as if, having become accustomed to some seed of truth, it suddenly sprouts into a new shoot of understanding within their mind. Rather than tiring of the rote repetition, the practice of regularly considering these important truths tends to unlock new depths of appreciation as each child grows and matures through the years.
Though we do not use a specific set of Christmas-themed catechism questions, we see the same trend developing in our home each year during Advent. When my first child was very young, my wife and I spent the holidays reading Bible passages and storybooks to him that communicated the heart of the Christmas story. We were a little scattershot about it, though, so one year I spent some time researching and arranging specific Old Testament passages that give a well-rounded picture of God’s promises concerning the coming Messiah (these family devotionals have since been published as The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent). Each December, our family read through and discussed these same 25 passages leading up to Christmas Day.
The kids got older, new kids came along, but year after year the familiarity of these passages began to form deeper levels of insight and thankfulness in their hearts. Conversations shifted from the basic facts of the Christmas story to unfolding the Gospel message at its heart. Why do we need a messiah? Why was it important that he be perfectly righteous? What was up with all those animal sacrifices in the Old Testament? The scarlet thread of God’s plan of redemption became intricately woven throughout our family’s holiday season and beyond. Rather than becoming trite and worn out, these passages have come alive in our children’s imaginations and have illuminated their view of the baby in the manger whose birth we love to celebrate on Christmas morning.
The cumulative effect built upon years of repetition, discussion, and prayer has far exceeded anything we experienced the first time we walked through these passages. It has become a sort of yearly catechesis for our family, as we pull the book out and dive in again at the start of each Advent season. It’s now a tradition in our home, on par with any of the other Christmas activities we love so much. But unlike many of the other traditions, this one can’t be contained within a single month. The truths we dwell upon during Advent have spilled over to impact the rest of the year as well, frequently entering our family conversations and showing up at unexpected times. For example, the mid-July Sunday School lesson on humility provided an opportunity for my son to spontaneously blurt out, “This is just like in Zechariah where God told us Jesus would come in humility to save us.” He connected the dots to Jesus just like that, and I couldn’t hold back the smile that split my face.
When I started this Advent tradition with my children, my goal was to show them Jesus. Not only the baby Jesus we focus on at Christmastime, but also the Prophet, Priest, and King who is the fulfillment of all God’s promises. My hope was that they would gain a greater appreciation for the cosmic scope of the rescue mission that baby in the manger was embarking upon. I wanted to hold up Scripture’s multi-faceted, glorious picture of our Messiah so that my children could see His beauty and grow to treasure Him. As the tradition continues, by God’s grace, my children are growing in their appreciation of Jesus in ways I never fathomed. The yearly repetition of simple, accessible, and yet biblically profound truths has yielded untold blessings in my family. Year after year, my children have grown in their love for Jesus, their anticipation of celebrating His birth, and, as they look forward, in the glad expectation that He will keep yet another promise—one day, He will return.
Parents, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the arms race of family discipleship, always searching for new and better methods, always feeling like we’re one step behind everybody else. This Christmas let me encourage you to go back to basics. Open the Word of God with your children and let it dwell richly in your home. Make a tradition out of it. Revisit the Word with your children again and again, helping them unfold truth layer by layer. Take the long view and watch God shape their hearts through His Word as the years go by.
Editor's Note: Pick up Scott's new Advent book for children, The Littlest Watchman.