By Carrie McCormack
FOR the past four years our Advent journey has included making a Jesse Tree with our children.
We adorn the Jesse Tree using illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies and events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ.
The ornaments tell the story of God and Israel in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across 4000 years of history.
Last year we used mixed textures on white disc paper and Blu-tacked them to the wall in the living room to make our Jesse Tree.
As we were nearing the end of Advent my eight-year-old said to me, “Look, Mum, this picture (ornament depicting Abraham and Isaac) and this picture (ornament of Jesus in the manger) are similar”.
After this observation I noticed the same theme in the ornament for baby Moses as an infant in a floating basket.
My eight-year-old awakened in me the realisation that, not only are there nativity themes in the Old Testament but also in the Eucharist.
I am a catechist in a local mothers’ group where we present the Gospel in unique ways to assist mothers and children to participate.
One day I presented the nativity with small props and figurines.
I held up the manger to show all the mothers and the children, and said, “This is a manger, this is where the animals eat from. ‘Manger’ is derived from ‘Mange’: a French word for ‘eat’.”
It struck me that our God was placed in the stable and that upon him was placed a great mission.
Christ’s life was to be sacrificed not only in his time on earth, but for all eternity in the Eucharist.
Now when I see a manger, I consider how similar this is to an altar.
This month we have a few mothers sharing how journeying through Advent and Christmas with children can be so enriching.
Firstly, Chantale is a mother of four grown children and a Prep teacher at St Mark’s Catholic Primary School, Inala.
She told us, “As a parent and a teacher, I’ve always had small children around during Advent and Christmas and it is one of the great joys of my life.
“With my Prep class each year, we have a gift with many layers of wrapping paper on it. During our prayer each morning we unwrap another layer as we patiently wonder what is this precious gift hidden under all these layers of paper?
“As I watch them eagerly remove the next layer, I am prompted to ask God to remove my own layers – patiently and wondrously – so that I may also find the most precious gift of all – Jesus – anew and living in my heart.”
She said, “This is my first experience of a Christmas with children around as my little one and a couple of nephews and nieces only arrived this year.
“This has prompted me and the whole family to consider how can we connect with and express the true meaning of Christmas?
“What traditions would we like to keep/establish?
“Usually the festive season comes and goes in a blur. However, this year we are approaching it with a renewed sense of purpose and have been connecting with the message of Christmas in a much deeper way.”
Thirdly, Kathryn a mother of five children is approaching Advent with new questions from her growing children.
“My seven-year-old sat my husband and I down and asked, ‘Is Santa even real?’ We responded with, ‘What do you think?’
She responded, ‘I don’t think he is’.
“And with a little more chatting we got onto St Nicholas and we looked him up online to show her what he really looked like and how he was pretty much the Santa Claus back then and delivered presents to families in need and so on.
“We then explained the story of Jesus being born and the whole reason behind Christmas.
“After she had gone to bed it really made me think about my journey towards Christmas and what Advent really means to me.
“It’s about giving more than receiving.
“It’s about celebrating the birth of Christ. I ponder on the moment Mary must have had when she saw her son for the first time and the joy that Jesus had brought to her and how she gave herself freely for her son.
“That’s what I’m really focusing on this Advent: giving of my time more freely especially to my children.”
We cannot escape the fact that God humbly came to us, as an unborn baby and then born in the poorest of settings.
Our God meets us in our most vulnerable experiences.
Take time to notice how the children in your midst love baby Jesus and the nativity.
Let the children inspire your personal response this Christmas.
With so many people suffering displacement and separation from loved ones this Christmas let us call on our Infant King to bless all who are poor and without a home.
Carrie McCormack is the founder of Mother Effect, a ministry that promotes parents as the first educators, and understanding the potential of the child.