The message of Christmas is not that we can make peace. Or that we can make love, make light, make gifts, or make this world save itself.
The message of Christmas is that this world’s a mess and we can never save ourselves from ourselves and that we need a Messiah.
For unto us a child is born.
Ann Voskamp, ‘The Greatest Gift’
It is no easy task, keeping Christ central in Christmas.
The lights. The advertisements. The present buying and wrapping and exchanging. The food. The aftermath. The new year.
It can all go by in a blur, and the central character can get missed out.
For what is Christmas if not a celebration of a birth? A birth many, many years ago, of a baby boy to a woman named Mary. A birth in the night. A birth so obscure, yet so significant. For this baby would grow to be the man hung on the cross as King of the Jews. Who do you say he is?
Christmas is a celebration of a birth. A birth of a saviour that leads to a marriage of the saved with their God. The happiest pair of events.
So if Christmas is a celebration of a birth that changed everything, how can we stop ourselves from forgetting the baby in the manger?
My friends and I have shared lots of ideas together about how Christian families can make sure that Christmas doesn’t get totally railroaded by the commercialism of our culture. Here are a few of them:
Not doing too much
Guilty! This year, I made myself a list of things I would like to do for and before Christmas that, at the time, seemed feasible. Fast forward four weeks and we have had ill health, last-minute family events, and a heavy end-of-term workload to contend with. And I’ll admit, I started getting a little huffy about not getting the list done. It took a stern word with myself to set things straight. Now many things have been crossed off the list, and I feel much more light-hearted because of it.
If sending Christmas cards is stressful, why not pare down the list? (This year, I’m sending only to close family and a few friends who have been especially supportive to us. I’ll be saying happy Christmas to everyone else via Facebook and making a charity donation of the money I would otherwise have spent on cards and stamps.)
If going to lots of parties and events is burdensome, say no to some (or all).
If doing everything you (think you) need to do is wearing you out, assess whether those things are really essential. Whose expectations are you trying to meet?
The temptation is to try to create a picture-perfect Christmas with beautifully hand-made and wrapped gifts, tasty and attractive food, beautiful Christmas cards, and so on. None of these things are bad in themselves, but if our hearts desire those things more than they desire truth and love and life, we are in for trouble. Doing too much can ruin everything. We put our heads down and focus on getting things done, and forget to enjoy what’s already before us. And in the midst of that, we forget Jesus.
Making the most of Advent
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
Advent can be every bit as magical as Christmas itself. The building up to the day of celebration. The preparations. The progress. The unravelling of the Christmas story.
Chocolate advent calendars are fun, but advent is also a time of pointing towards Jesus. What is the background story? Why did he come? This year we have our true story advent calendar, and we also have a sticker calendar based on Alison Mitchell’s book The Christmas Promise. Both focus on Jesus. I have heard also of families who unwrap a small ornament or trinket each day, representing a different event or character in the nativity story (such as a Mary tree ornament, a myrrh candle and so on).
I am also reading Ann Voskamp’s book of advent devotions, The Greatest Gift, from which I quoted above and which has so far been amazing. I will be writing a review of it, but I want to finish it first. In a nutshell: it marks each day of advent using a Jesse Tree – an exploration of Christ’s family tree and the big picture of the Bible. There is a family version too (Unwrapping the Greatest Gift) which we have ready for next year when our children are a little older. There are lots of other Jesse Tree resources available online and in books. You could even design your own using whichever Bible you like to read with your children (we like The Big Picture Story Bible and The Beginner’s Bible).
Whether we use formal resources or just refocus our thoughts on the birth of Jesus, advent is a wonderful time to soak up and get under the skin of the Christmas story.
Using the resources available to us
There are so many books, websites and resources available to help guide us through the season. It only takes a few minutes each day to switch on to the advent heartbeat. I’ve already mentioned some, but have also been recommended others including Beginning with God at Christmas (Bible notes for preschoolers), Treasuring God in Our Traditions (a free e-book aiming to inspire families to keep Christ at the centre not just at Christmas but all year round), XTB Christmas Unpacked (Bible notes for slightly older children), children’s books such as The Fox’s Tale, and this nativity scene from children in New Zealand among others.
Examining our hearts
What do we really want to celebrate? What do we really want to demonstrate to our children and those around us?
The coming of Christ is an event full of joy. Joy to the world. Joy to us. The Christmas celebration is one of joy. How we communicate and express that to our children and others around us is so important. Read this article by Christine Hoover for more about that! If we are so stressed and focused on things other than the baby, we miss out on the most joyful celebration of all.
Examining our own hearts helps us to strip away the dross and get to the core of what it’s about. Christ.