This article is part of the Help! series.
Christ in Christmas
Decades ago, Charlie Brown decried the “commercialization” of Christmas. He felt the absence of something meaningful under the decorations and seasonal activities, and he lamented the absence of anyone who could help him find it.
He wasn’t wrong in his assessment then and would, if anything, feel those absences even more acutely today.
Our world frames the Christmas season as a month-long, mid-winter party. It floods us with images of happy gatherings, tables loaded with food, abundant gifts, soft lights, dazzling trees, and amazing music. And it targets not only ourselves but our children as well, barraging them with the same kinds of images.
Those images come with a promise: enter into them fully and they will bring you joy and comfort—they will make you feel warm and secure. Oh, and if you want to add a religious component, that’s okay. You can do that too, but it’s not really necessary.
Our world offers countless alternatives to the gospel that should neither surprise nor frighten us. Evil continuously wages a dark war against God on every front. So, why shouldn’t it turn a remembrance of our Savior’s birth into something that pushes him to the side?
The challenge is this: how do we and our children live in this world, where our Lord thought we should live, without being shaped by the values of this world?
Counteracting a Pagan Worldview
We can’t thoughtlessly join into what everyone around us does. That’s obvious. But we also can’t, Grinch-like, simply refuse to have anything to do with it. Neither of those paths is distinctly Christian because both paths—either for or against the world—are defined by the world and its values and not defined by Christ.
So, how do we find Jesus in this season? And how do we help our children focus on him as well? The book of Daniel can help. It details how several of Israel’s best and brightest young people were force-fed a pagan worldview.
They learned the language and the literature of the Babylonians (Dan. 1:4), and they learned it better than anyone else in the whole empire (Dan. 1:20). And yet they lived in and served that world that they understood so well without defiling themselves (Dan. 1:8) or compromising their faith (Dan. 3, 6).
God put that book in Scripture to give us hope that we and our children can live in our present age even when it rejects his values, all while still keeping our hearts set on Christ. It’s possible and it takes a lot of work—a lot of conversations that tie faith and life together so that our children understand the world they live in and the God who wanted them so badly that he entered into it as well.
So, let me urge you to consider two different kinds of conversations that you need to have with your children during this season. First, more positively, conversations that help your kids see Jesus and what he values. Second, more negatively, conversations that undermine the influence that the larger society tries to have on your kids.
Build a Christian Worldview
First, make time for conversations that build a Christian worldview for your children.
- Consider working together through some kind of daily devotional during advent, such as Paul Tripp’s Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional, that moves beyond the facts of Jesus coming to earth and focuses on why he did so—to rescue us from the sin and darkness that we couldn’t escape on our own, all because he longed to get us back for himself.
- Remind your child that there’s always a Godward dimension of life. Expand his world vertically by thinking together about how the elements of your Christmas celebration point beyond themselves back to God—an activity that C. S. Lewis talks about as tracing the sunbeam back up to the sun. For instance, when you go look at Christmas lights or put them on your tree, don’t let your child simply think of them as pretty. Help him see how they remind us of the hope that we don’t deserve to have—that though we were once the people walking in darkness, we do so no longer because light has now come (Isa. 9:2).
- Talk about the principles that need to underlie how your child thinks about presents—principles like it truly is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), that we should find ways to give to those who cannot give something back (Luke 14:12-14), and that giving generously almost always means that we have to forego something that we ourselves would like (2 Cor. 8:1-5). And make sure you show how each of those principles flow out of what we have already experienced from God gifting Christ to us.
If you want to focus your children on Christ, set him at the center of their world in as many ways as possible.
Expose Worldly Foolishness
And secondly, be ready to have conversations with your kids that expose the foolishness of building their lives on the promises of this season.
- Teach your children to think about the messages that advertising sells them—that they will be happy and grateful and fun to be around if only they add this one new thing to their lives. Ask them where they’ve seen the lasting evidence of that in their own lives or in the lives of their friends. God has given us a good creation that we are to enjoy, so don’t teach your children to think badly of it. But do help them see that external things can never produce inner goodness because those things don’t have the power to go inside of us—they can’t make us good people, and therefore, they can’t give us a good life. We can desire them and enjoy them, but we have to resist the temptation to rely on them.
- Help your child realize that a world that invites her to choose from nearly endless options doesn’t foster happiness, but discontent. What is likely to happen when your daughter believes that somewhere out there is the perfect cable-knit sweater, in the proper shade of purple, without buttons or pockets, sporting a half-length zipper and a short collar that folds down? Do you think she’s likely to be grateful to the giver of anything other than this one she’s envisioned? Or do you think that she’ll feel a bit let-down—like she’s settling for something that’s okay, but not what she could have had? Help her understand that the longer her list of specifications is, the more self-oriented she’ll become and the less she’ll receive all of life as a gift from God.
- And then last, help your children process the big letdown after December 25; that feeling of tiredness and emptiness that kicks in at the end of December and carries on into January. Forecast it in advance. Talk about it afterward. Share your own stories of how you’ve experienced post-Christmas depression. Don’t be gloomy, but do help them get ready for it. And help them understand that people feel down, not because the material world is bad, but because they’ve put too much hope in it—that they took something to be enjoyed, but tried to use it to fill their souls. This is a great real-life case study in the truth that the creation, no matter how attractive and glorious, can never replace the Creator (Rom. 1:25). Don’t miss the opportunity to unpack it with your kids.
In other words, if you want to focus your children on Christ, set him at the center of their world in as many ways as possible. But to do that for them, it will have to be true for you. To see the goodness of God most clearly—to focus on Christ during Christmas—your children will need to see you enthralled by him and captured by him far more than you are by anything in the world around you.
William P. Smith is the author of Parenting with Words of Grace: Building Relationships with Your Children One Conversation at a Time.
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