Readers' suggestions on keeping Christ the focus of Christmas
Most of the time we want to avoid accidents. I don’t mean traffic accidents—although we try to steer clear of those. I’m thinking about the way things happen when we don’t plan and just leave things to chance. Too many times a lack of planning or deliberate intent has a bad outcome, and we laugh—or cry—about the mishaps, catastrophes and even disasters that result.
I don’t usually think of Christmas as a time that is devoid of planning—when things happen by accident. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We work ahead to decorate our homes and do all the baking that we associate with this time of year. We orchestrate gift shopping, wrapping and delivery and coordinate a full calendar of community, work, church and family programs, parties and events. In order to accomplish all the good stuff that makes our Christmas season memorable, we plan, plan and plan!
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we recognize that the reason we’re doing all of these things is to celebrate his birth. He is the Savior of all mankind, and celebrating his incarnation should reflect and worship him. Our Christmas celebrations are full and rich when they draw our attention to Jesus Christ and his message of grace, salvation, forgiveness and new life.
But our Christmas traditions and celebrations won’t have this focus unless we intend them to. We can’t leave something this important to chance. We must deliberately provide ways for Christ’s message to infuse our Christmas season.
Last year we invited Christian Leader readers to contribute to an article on being intentional about holiday traditions by answering the question: What do you do to keep your Christmas celebrations focused on Christ? Some people replied informally while others wrote more detailed descriptions and even sent samples. Read on and you will hear from seven readers. I am blessed by the way each of these individuals reflect on their Christmas traditions, and I trust you will be too.
I also invite you to add your comments at the end of the article, telling us how you and your family intentionally focus your Christmas celebrations on Jesus Christ. —Connie Faber
Lessons from the nativity
It was early December about five years ago that Marlene and i were talking about the upcoming Christmas season. My thoughts went back to the Christmases I shared with both sets of grandparents when I was a boy.
It was our custom to gather in the loving room, and Grandpa would have someone read the Christmas story. Then he would ask if any of the children had a reading, song or saying from the church program to share. He would ask if any adult had something to say; then he would pray. Next came the exciting part that most of us kids could hardly wait for—the presents. This routine went on year after year with both sets of grandparents.
As Marlene and I were discussing our Christmas plans for our family, I suddenly realized that what goes around comes around. Now I am the grandpa and the family comes to my house!
What could I do to make the Christmas story memorable for longer than the few minutes before the Christmas presents become the focus. Marlene was putting up the nativity scene her mother had made for her when an idea came to me. Why not have a grandchild read the Christmas story, and then I choose one item from the set as an object lesson?
The first year I chose the star. I made a large star out of cardboard and covered it with tinfoil. Our star had five points and I assigned a letter to each point. The five letters spelled the word “Jesus,” the reason the star shone so brightly that night. Jesus is the light of the world, I told the children.
When I asked the kids to repeat what each point was, they didn’t miss one—and they received a dollar for each point they remembered. Even our youngest granddaughter, not yet one-year old, watched with interest what was going on.
The next Christmas, I made a manger out of wood for each grandchild. The mangers had a false bottom where we hid a five-dollar bill. The lesson was that God used a simple, common feed bunk to give the world the greatest Christmas gift ever. If we accept Jesus Christ, God’s gift to us, then God will use us too, even if we think that, like a manger, we can’t do much.
The next year the camel had its turn as the object lesson and the year after that it was the angels. I hear that already the older grandchildren are wondering what the “lesson” will be this Christmas. Grandpa is wondering too!
Cards tell the story
I may have friends and family who have never received the gift of Jesus as Savior and Lord. So in 2006 my husband and I composed a Christmas card with our testimonies telling how we were born into God’s family.
Emerson and I are in our mid-70s, and since our health is uncertain we are thinking more about eternity. How we love our friends and family and want them to be with us in heaven some day. This desire prompted us to share our stories. Now we give the results to God to use and bless.
For the past several years, the members of my extended family and I have agreed that we have more material possessions than we ever wanted. So I suggested that we stop exchanging gifts and instead give the amount we would have spent on gifts to the Lord’s work. Some family members were aghast at the suggestion while others thought it was a great idea.
Each year I have given $1,000 either to missions or to a special project within my local church. I moved to Hillsboro from southern California in the summer of 2007, so my “alternative” Christmas gift last year went to a special project connected with the new building of my church here in Hillsboro.
It has been a great blessing to give to the Lord’s work and to keep him as the focus of Christmas. And I must confess, it certainly beats going to all the stores and trying to select gifts for people who already have too much!
Thinking of others
Our two sons are now grown, but when they were younger we lit an Advent candle with day-by-day marks. We burned the candle at the evening meal, and they both looked forward to lighting it. Then we would read through the Christmas cards we got that day and talk about the families who sent them. We tried to continue this through high school, although they were not as enthused by then. We hoped this would help our sons think about others during the Christmas season.
Focusing on Christ
Our daughters are 10 and seven. Here are some of our ideas for keeping Christ the focus of Christmas.
Our advent celebrations include a daily advent calendar with nativity characters to add to the scene and lighting an advent wreath candle each week and discussing the significance.
We fill a "Jesus stocking" with notes telling of kind acts done by our family members "as unto the Lord." When we open our stockings on Christmas morning, we also read what kind things we've done throughout the month. Credit goes to Lisa Schmidt of Millard Bible Church, Omaha, Neb., for this idea.
I read aloud many books from our now extensive collection of Christmas picture books that give further insight into the Christmas story—books by Max Lucado like Alabaster's Song, The Crippled Lamb or Jacob's Gift; King of the Stable by Melody Carlson, Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg and Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs.
Watching The Nativity movie as a family and sleeping in sleeping bags by the Christmas tree is something we started last year that I think we’ll continue.
At meals from Christmas until Easter, we pull a couple Christmas cards, letters or pictures from our collection and pray for those friends.
Carols and cookies
One of the things my family does to make Christmas about Jesus and God is to go caroling with two or three other families at a nursing home during the supper meal. Then our families have a potluck. We’ve done it for a few years now. Our family also memorizes Christmas hymns. Each year we select one new hymn about the Christmas story, and we sing and memorize it during the Christmas season.
Another thing we have done is to bake Christmas cookies and then take plates of cookies to our neighbors to wish them a Merry Christmas. It is one of the few times we have been in some of these neighbors’ homes.
Up to me
Two years ago I realized consciously for the first time that I no longer have any real Christmas traditions and keeping Christ at the center is, well, up to me. My parents are divorced and so are my husband's. He grew up without Christ; I grew up with him. My dad used to read us the nativity story from Luke every Christmas Eve. No longer. I miss that.
My husband's family is a mix of Christian, nothing and Mormon; mine is a mix of Christian and not sure what. In trying to make everyone happy, we find ourselves driving to multiple houses in an effort to have a "family Christmas." Two years ago we spent Christmas Day with my mom's side of the family. My husband and I organized a nativity skit with competing sides and had a fun quiz with questions about the nativity. It was the only way I could find to make Christ a part of the celebrations without once again being the "annoying Christian" of the family. They seemed to enjoy it.
Last year I did my own nativity reading of Matthew and Luke. It wasn'tmuch—just me, my Bible and a cup of hot chocolate—but it was my one way of connecting to the real meaning of what this holiday, turned month of craziness, is all about.
This year my husband and I will spend our first Christmas as parents. We welcomed our son, Maddox, into the world in October. The responsibility to clothe and feed him and keep him well seems immense. Yet, we know our responsibility includes much more than that—introducing him to his Creator. The Christmas season can play a large role in doing this and we look forward to seeing how our traditions are shaped by it.
Sat, December 6, 2008
by CL Readers