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It was Christmas Eve, and I was eight years old. Our house was completely dark except for the sparkle of candles that my mother had placed around the house, and the radiant glow of Christmas lights from our colorfully decorated tree. The air seemed to sparkle with heavenly light as our family gathered in the living room to read the Christmas story from the Bible and sing hymns by candlelight. For the first time in my young life, I was struck by the “holiness” of the Christmas holiday. My heart was filled with wonder, awe, and gratitude at what God had done in sending His only Son into the world on my behalf. Santa, parties, and presents suddenly seemed unimportant. I simply wanted to remember and celebrate God’s amazing gift.
In our self-focused culture, it is not always easy to keep a “holy” perspective toward the holiday season. I had moments as a child when I truly understood what Christmas meant, but there were also many times when all I could think about was what would be waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning. Even now as an adult, it can be challenging to keep my gaze centered on Christ in the midst of the holiday bustle. For many of us today, the holidays can often become just another temptation to get distracted from eternal things and get caught up in shallow frivolity — with no real purpose other than to keep us busy and focused on ourselves.
For this holiday issue, we asked our team to share specific ways that they keep Christ at the center of their holiday season. We hope these insights will inspire you afresh to keep your gaze on Him during every moment of this special time of year and keep the holidays truly holy.
The first time I heard the word “advent” I was well into my twenties. Advent — a special observance on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas — wasn’t a tradition in my family or in the churches I attended throughout my youth. We had family devotions during the Christmas season, where we all thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of the birth of Christ and fixing our gaze on Him. But a few years after I was married, I was introduced to the purpose of Advent (and yes, it went beyond popping small chocolates out of a cheap cardboard calendar decorated with Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph). The word “advent” means “the arrival of one who is awaited,” and it got me thinking about how I was preparing my life for the arrival of Christ as I entered into the season of Christmas.
I had a growing longing to do as the Christmas hymn "Joy to the World" instructs — Let every heart prepare Him room! And likewise, the verse in Luke 2:7 (ESV) began to feel personally convicting; Christ had arrived into his mother’s arms, but “…there was no place for them in the inn.” Here was Jesus, and yet, only a mere few individuals were even aware of his arrival. The rest of the world was caught up in the flurry of life.
Something about the slowness of the Advent tradition appeals to me at a stage in my adult life when the days and weeks leading to Christmas seem to fly by each year. I want to mark the days and “make room” for Christ. I don’t want my Christmas celebrations to arrive in a flurry of turkey, presents, stockings, jingle bells, and laughter, and then simply end. I want to actively prepare my life for Christ to be truly, deeply celebrated. And even if there is a flurry of activity around me, I long for a quiet reverence in my own heart.
I’m still not very good at remembering to slow down during the Christmas season, but the Advent tradition helps to create a mindfulness in my life, which was the first step for me. Sometimes I follow a reading calendar of Scripture broken up into the weeks leading to Christmas; sometimes I light a candle in the mornings and sit silently, thanking my Savior for coming so unceremoniously, and yet with such great purpose; sometimes I read the full account of His coming in one sitting. There’s no perfect method for how we “prepare” our hearts for Christ. Advent’s four weeks of preparation isn’t a magic formula, but it has helped me create a framework for stillness in my mind and in my home, and helps me to cultivate a sense of eager anticipation and deep joy for the precious work of my Savior that is marked by the Christmas season!
Between gifts to buy, food to prepare, and parties galore, it can be easy to get caught up in the holiday whirl without even realizing it. So what do I do during this busy season to keep Christ central? One thing I’ve found helpful is to take some time before the bustle of the season really hits, to think about what the overall focus of the holidays should be. Do I want to cultivate quiet memories with family? Is it important to be purposeful about growing certain friendships? What are ways Christ is leading me to grow my relationship with Him during this season? Thinking through these things can help us each know how to organize our schedule once all the invitations start to flood in. When we have a clear picture of our priorities, it is much easier to say no to some of the parties, movie outings, and white elephant gift exchanges that can strain our calendars or cause our focus to shift from where it is supposed to be. This doesn’t mean we have to decline every invitation we receive. However, it is important to recognize that we won’t be considered the Scrooge of Christmas if we decline some of those Facebook invites.
All of this doesn’t mean that the holidays can’t be filled with joyful cheer. On the contrary, saying no to certain events allows us to really cherish the things we do say yes to. For example, last year I decided to do less holiday visiting so that I’d have more opportunities to make meaningful memories with family. Since I was home most evenings, one of my sisters, a closer friend, and I were able to spend time — just the three of us — learning how to make Christmas garlands out of fresh foliage we had collected from my family’s home and nearby woods. A few days later, I was able to plan a family day where each of my siblings, my parents, and I were assigned characters from Pilgrim’s Progress for an at-home reader’s theater. These were both just simple times spent at home, but they rank high as highlights from last year’s holiday season.
As we gear up for the holidays, I encourage you to prayerfully evaluate how God is leading you to spend the season. Ask Him to show you where your priorities are supposed to be and how to add sparkle to the things He calls you to.
One year when I was in high school, we decided as a family that instead of each of us receiving a gift for Christmas, we would use that money to buy coal for a very poor family in our church who had lost a child to pneumonia, simply because they couldn’t keep their house warm enough during the frigid Mongolian winter. I will never forget the impression this made on me, considering what a small thing it is to give up a few “earthly treasures” to share the love of Christ with others.
I’m so thankful that both my husband and I grew up in homes where the Gospel was clearly emphasized and Christ was exalted during the holiday season. It’s definitely not the easiest thing to do when materialism is at its height and every single company is trying to convince you that you need what they have. But it can be done. It just takes intentionality and seeking the Lord for wisdom and creativity. If you have children, be looking for opportunities to illustrate Gospel truths in various aspects of the season, whether it be gift-giving or Christmas carols. Use it as a way to cultivate thanksgiving and sacrificial generosity to those in need, just as Jesus did for us. And ask the Lord for discernment to know how to simply and lovingly explain to your children why your family celebrates the holidays in certain ways, and why you don’t participate in other things.
As we seek to reflect God’s beauty, joy, and love in every facet of our holiday celebrations — He will be honored in our lives!
As Christmas festivities dwindle to a close, New Year’s resolutions begin to take the stage! Health club and diet plan memberships peak at the start of each new year. By February, the waiting lines for the treadmills have dissolved and the Cheetos have mysteriously fallen from the store display into the grocery cart. By March, things are just as they were back in December. In one way or another, we’ve all ended up with the Cheetos back in our pantry, haven’t we? We have good intentions, and yet we lack the ability to translate those good intentions into the daily reality in our lives. But why?
Oftentimes, we muster up self-willed resolve instead of practicing godly resolve. The first is based on personal or emotional inspiration, while the second is based on conviction to live according to God’s Word by His strength.
As God awakens us to needed change and we choose to respond in obedience to His leading — we will have the strength of His Spirit backing our every step. This is the key to true, lasting change! Rather than making self-willed resolutions that are based on mere good intentions, let’s make resolutions based on the conviction of God’s leading in our lives and carry them out in the enabling power He supplies through His Spirit.
As we walk into this new year — and each new day — may we build habits and lifestyles in His strength and for His glory!
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