The smell of Christmas morning for our family is coffee cake. The sour cream bundt cake that I make every year is laced with ribbons of sugar-coated pecans and cinnamon. It takes an hour to bake, so as the sweet aroma fills our home, the whole family anticipates an intimate celebration around the table. We all look forward to it, but for me it feels extra special. It’s a gift of myself to my family and an offering to God.

But not everything feels like that at the holidays. Often decorating, cooking, cards, and shopping feel like obligations or commercial rites rather than a true celebration of the meaning of the season. Instead of anticipating the arrival of Christmas, we may long for it to be over.

As our kids were growing up, Christmas was more about the embellishments of the holiday. My focus was getting all the tasks done in anticipation of the holiday rather than creating an experience that pointed to the spiritual truths we celebrate.

Yet, somehow I knew the anticipation was inherently good. Even the anticipation of enjoying that coffee cake with my family. I just didn’t know why.

The season of Advent—a time in the church calendar to anticipate Christ’s arrival—points to the hope God created us to enjoy. Expectantly waiting for Christmas day not only helps us remember why we long for a Savior, but why we also long for the day when he will restore all things.

With reflection, we can see all our preparations for Christmas in light of the hope we have in Christ. The unique expressions of this season – whether a shared meal, the beauty of decorating, baking, hospitality, or gift-giving – can remind us of what Christ has done for us and what we long for him to do for the world. Our joyful anticipation can draw others into that story. 

With each passing year, I hold the trimmings of the season more loosely. Rather than frantically completing tasks or aiming to project the perfect image of my competency, I recognize my limitations and slow down. I spend more time reflecting on what God has to teach me through each expression of anticipation. Then, I’m free to give not just gifts at Christmas, but myself. My anticipation invites others to join in the expectant waiting, joy, and hope of Advent.

And on Christmas morning, my coffee cake fills our home with the aroma of Christ.

What are you anticipating this season? How do your unique celebrations of the season point to the arrival of Jesus and the hope you have in him?

Shauna Schneider
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