Advent: A Time To Serve

Photo by Pleuntje, via Flickr

I think the hardest part about passing on the faith to the next generation is getting our kids to connect the faith with the minutiae of real life. You know what I’m talking about, right? You wrap up an eloquent, profound chat about “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and five minutes later, your saint-in-training turns around and wallops Brother with his light saber, just because he can.

When I was in grade school, my classmates and I answered every “what do you do?” question with vague platitudes like “Be kind to others” or “Love God.” Even then I thought, What a useless answer. What does that even mean? What does it have to do with real life?

Those phrases might sound good, but they’re so vague, they don’t require any change. They could mean anything, and thus they mean nothing at all. Basing the practice of the faith on such vague generalizations is a fast track to the kind of hypocritical religion that Jesus raked the Pharisees over the coals for.

And we’re as guilty as our children.

How much suffering do we pass by every day without even noticing? How often do we drive by the homeless man shivering at the highway’s edge without making eye contact? How often do we shriek at the driver whose less-than-speedy mph causes us to miss a stoplight? How often do we fail to lend a sympathetic ear to an acquaintance who is clearly in distress, because we feel that our own problems are quite enough, thank you very much? How often do we badmouth political leaders, bosses, coworkers or acquaintances, passing judgment and spreading gossip?

And what does our failure to do as Jesus would do in these very real, very ordinary, non-ivory-tower situations teach our children about what it means to be a Christian?

Serving others requires us to leave the safety of our comfort zone. Most of the time, we find all kinds of excuses to avoid having to do so. It’s not safe. We don’t have time. We don’t have the money. I wouldn’t even know what’s needed or how to start.

But at one time of year–the weeks leading up to Christmas–everybody is thinking about serving others. That makes Advent the perfect time to stop making excuses and put our money (and our time, and our hearts) where our mouths are.

For six years, my family has observed Advent by tucking a slip of paper with an activity on it into each compartment in the Advent calendar. Some of these are just fun things; some of them are busy-work like making cookies. But we always make room for service, too.

What can you do this Advent to show your children what it means to follow Christ?  Can you cook for a soup kitchen? Ring the Salvation Army bell for a couple of hours? Have each member of the family buy a canned or nonperishable good out of their own budget and drop it off at a food bank? Buy a hot meal for a person standing at the corner with a cardboard sign? Deliver food and gifts to needy families through a “giving tree” program?

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival”–the dawning of something new. Let this season be a new beginning for your family–the advent of an ongoing commitment to root your faith in action, so that it may reach long arms toward Heaven.

Kathleen Basi is a write-at-home mom and the author of Joy to the World: Advent Activities For Your Family. She blogs at