This article is part of the 7 Tips series.
The Most Wonderful Time
Christmas! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
What’s not to love? Trees. Lights. Decorations. Cards. Feasts. Family. Vacation. Traditions. Presents!
To truly understand Christmas, really for anyone, it takes a little explaining. In my neighborhood, there are a lot of families who have moved to Dallas because they are refugees. They are displaced people who have ended up in our community because they needed to escape persecution or conflict somewhere else. Some of our neighbors are not only new to America, they are new to Christmas. Many of them came from countries where Christianity was not only uncommon, it was also illegal. Simply putting a small nativity scene in our front yard and some lights on our house has led to beautiful conversations about Christ and his work.
I’d like you to consider approaching this Christmas a little more like your family is going to see everything for the first time. They are probably familiar with it, and your neighbors probably are too, but I want you to consider that most of us, like it or not, are so used to the consumerist Santa-centric celebrations that a distinctly Christian celebration—a truly Christ-centered holiday season—could be a real shift from what they expect. And it would be greater in all the best ways!
Think about it. There are some questions you’d ask if you weren’t so familiar with the holiday—questions with answers that have eternal implications. Why is there a tree in the living room? Why are there lights in the yard? Why are people knocking on doors to sing to strangers?
Christmas may not be your favorite holiday, but for a Christian family, it is a significant annual opportunity to disciple as you celebrate the incarnation of Christ. Here are seven tips on how to do that well.
1. Tie EVERYTHING back to Jesus.
Christmas is a season of low hanging fruit for the family who is eager to talk about Jesus and to follow him together.
Why do we put up lights? Because Jesus, the light of the world, came into the darkness of this world. Now he calls us the light of the world. We don’t hide that we follow Jesus. We want it to be as obvious as a string of lights on our home.
Why do we give gifts? Because Jesus’s life was the greatest gift humanity has ever received. Nothing more generous has ever happened and now eternal life is free to those who trust him.
What should we do with these Christmas cards? We pray for our family and friends who send them to us.
Why do we decorate with wreaths and trees? Because evergreens in winter remind us of the perseverance of life in Christ. We live forever.
Why does our culture love Santa instead of Jesus? Because our neighbors love to think that they would get rewarded for good behavior with what they want, but we know that what is truly great comes to us without having earned it. If it were up to us to earn the salvation we needed, if we had to be nice enough to get God’s favor, no one would get it because no one is perfect except Christ.
There are endless nuggets of truth that are available to the parent who is ready to disciple. Tie every aspect of Christmas back to Jesus. The opportunities are all around you.
2. Start four weeks early!
Christians have a whole season leading up to Christmas called Advent. You might have grown up in a church that practiced this, but if you didn’t, Advent is a great opportunity to lead your family in considering the waiting of humanity for Christ to be born. It is also a great season to teach how we now are waiting for Christ to come back again.
There are a lot of Advent resources available. There are calendars and devotionals and various Advent themed story books all designed to help your family consider what it means to wait on the Lord and be ready for his coming again.
3. Make it memorable.
In gift giving, if it really is the thought that counts, then be thoughtful. Giving just a little bit of time to being creative can turn a holiday that would otherwise sneak up on you into a memory making machine. Gifts can be great. They can bring joy. But how quickly do most of us forget what we got?
Maybe this year you can consider what kind of family shared experiences you want to design instead of what kind of stuff you want to own or give away. In the long run, a shared adventure may be better for your family than the momentary joy of opening a wrapped surprise. What really brings your family joy? What does each individual love? How can you use your words and your ability to plan something that delights to create a Christmas experience they’ll never forget?
This could be a holiday you’ll tell stories about for years to come. What game could you play? What adventure could you go on? What place would be special to you? Consider how you might surprise and serve your family with just a little bit of planning to make this Christmas special.
4. Confront consumerism.
Do not make Christmas about getting presents. It is worth repeating, do not let Christmas in your house be about getting presents! If shopping is the priority and “getting” is the goal, then you’ll miss an opportunity to do what Christ trained his disciples to do. Be counter cultural in the most generous and godly ways.
The incarnation should be the center of what we are doing. God did not send his Son so that we’d have an excuse to make a list of the things we want. Jesus was not born poor to a dejected and oppressed people so that we could have a reason to celebrate our lack of poverty.
Maybe this year consider what you might say or write to someone in your family as a gift. What are you praying for your family and how could you share that vision with them? How could you keep what’s under the tree from being the highlight?
Your family’s identity is not in being a consumer, it is in being a committed follower of Christ.
Tie every aspect of Christmas back to Jesus. The opportunities are all around you.
Consider what you might hand down and bestow as a rite of passage or a new responsibility instead of a toy or video game whose only purpose is entertainment. Help move the ball down the field on your spiritual leadership this Christmas instead of making cheap thrills the centerpiece.
5. Remember the forgotten people.
Sometimes on holidays our family will take treats to those people who are working to serve and are therefore away from their families. We’ve taken meals up to the hospital to give to nurses and brownies to our local police station to thank them for their sacrifice to serve our family. We also seek out members of our church who don’t have family nearby and make sure they know they are welcome to join our family for part of our Christmas holiday.
You would probably be surprised by how many of your neighbors don’t have holiday plans. Think especially about the lonely aging in your community. My family has gone caroling room to room in a local assisted living center. Many local homes for the aging offer opportunities for volunteers to visit, to play games, or to help serve the residents and employees in other ways.
6. Bury your hatchets.
Christmas is a great time to work on reconciling with family members. Whether it is a time of repentance needed in your immediate family or a conversation with distant relatives with whom you’ve had conflict, Christmas is the perfect time to give the gift of forgiveness or ask to receive it yourself.
Everyone’s family has its own unique brand of dysfunction. Let a time of focus on Christ be when you demonstrate that we want to have our transgressions forgiven as we forgive those who transgress against us.
7. Read, share, sing, pray!
In the home I grew up in, we always read Luke chapter 2 before praying and opening our presents. While I hope that reading the Scriptures, singing, and praying are a part of the regular rhythm for your family, holidays are a special occasion for family discipleship. You don’t have to prepare a living room live nativity with goats and camels penned up in the kitchen, but you can think of easy ways to make this a more special version of your family’s regular devotional life.
Consider singing a Christmas hymn together or asking some deeper theological questions than usual. We’ve met some of our neighbors by going door to door and caroling together. It’s a sweet Christian tradition and really not hard. Like most of these tips, it takes just a little bit of intentionality to make Christmas a memorable, Christ-centered season. It’s the thought that makes the difference. Honor God with your efforts!
Adam Griffin is the coauthor with Matt Chandler of Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones.
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