Christmas is a few days away. Maybe you’ve already attended a few parties, had a few family meals; maybe you’ve already opened some presents. For most of us, the next few days will involve quite a lot of that. Between presents, programs, food, family, and travel, will we let the stress take away the whole point of Christmas altogether? And does the idea of missing the point of Christmas just add to the stress that’s taking away our Christmas joy?
Well, here are some things to keep in mind so that through the next few days, you can keep your eyes on the true joy of Christmas – the knowledge that because of Christmas, you are a loved, forgiven, redeemed child of God.
1. Let the fun of gift-giving and gift-getting point to the gift of Jesus. Have you ever had to ask yourself how many times you’ve told your kids that it isn’t about the presents, while secretly (and guiltily?) admitting to yourself that you are pretty excited about what they’re getting? Or maybe you threw in the towel on that long ago and you just make it all about the presents, and can’t wait to see what other people got you. Here’s an idea: Enjoy the presents to their utmost. It’s a blessing to give and to receive gifts! But while you do so, let your kids know why we give gifts. Talk about who they point to, and who they’re from. The two can work together.
2. Don’t sweat the Santa stuff. If you’re a family that does Santa, maybe you’re tired of hearing people turn up their noses as they explain why they don’t do Santa in their house, and maybe you’re worried that this is the year the kids will catch on and the whole Santa thing will be (pardon the pun) out of the bag. On the other hand, if you’re a “No Santa” family, you’re probably irritated by all the people who keep asking your kids, “What do you think Santa is getting you?” when they know perfectly well that you don’t do Santa! It would be easy to start a Santa war over all this. Here’s my advice: (1) If you do Santa, remember that it’s just for fun. Don’t let your need to have fun with the game overshadow your children’s need to see the Savior. Keep it light, and don’t get upset if the kids figure it out. (2) If you don’t do Santa, go for the alternative and tell your kids about the real, original St. Nicholas. Then when that family member who just won’t quit asks, “What did Santa get you?” your kids will be able to say, “Gee, Uncle Dave, can I tell you about the real St. Nick?” and your job is done.
A note about Santa: Something to keep in mind when playing the Santa game is that there are some real spiritual and emotional concerns with taking it too seriously. For one, since Santa’s giving is based on works (“He knows if you’ve been bad or good”), this can cause some real spiritual confusion for a child, and detract from the free grace of God. Along with that, consider the child who has been good all year, but doesn’t get the cool toy he wants, only to find out that his friend who was not as good did get that toy. What might that do to a child’s self-esteem? Here’s a suggestion I saw once – let the little stuff or the stocking stuff be from Santa, and the big toys be from mom and dad. That gives you a chance to talk about what really matters without creating the sense that your child has to earn love from someone by good behavior. This will help them see the nature of God’s love much more clearly as well.
3. Don’t let your “Merry Christmas” sound like a “Bah Humbug!” Have you ever noticed that sometimes people respond to “Happy Holidays” by saying “Merry Christmas” like a nun correcting an erring school child? Or they just spend far too much Facebook space reposting memes about they’re unapologetic about saying “Merry Christmas”? Has that ever been you? Yeah, me too. It’s en vogue for Christians to want to “reclaim Christmas” in America as a reaction to the more inclusive and generic “Happy Holidays.” And when it’s a family member who goes the progressive route… But not only does this make Christians look like a grouchy bunch, it robs us of our joy. And it doesn’t really further the cause of the Gospel. How many checkers at Target have had their lives changed because someone snippily insisted that it’s “Christmas,” not “Holiday”?
Say Merry Christmas with a smile on your face and a cheer in your voice. Most people, even if they don’t celebrate Christmas, will happily accept it. If they don’t, let that be their issue, not yours. And if they say, “Happy Holidays,” you can say, “Thank you! You too! Merry Christmas!” Remember Jesus is good, but there isn’t a verse in the Bible that says, “You shall say Merry Christmas around December 25th.” Being polite and gracious does a lot more to show Jesus to the world than drawing lines in the sand that don’t come from Scripture.
4. Remember the “one thing needful.” You remember the story of Mary and Martha, how one was busy getting supper ready and the other was lounging listening to Jesus talk? You remember how Jesus in frustration told Mary to get up off the floor and get to work helping out in the kitchen, because that roast wasn’t going to cook itself? Yeah, that wasn’t the version I read either. Jesus wasn’t too worried if the potatoes were perfect. He was mostly concerned with spiritual matters. Do you think Christmas will be ruined if you have to skip on a side or people have to get cookies out of a tupperware? It won’t, especially not if your focus is on Jesus and sharing his love. So spend your time enjoying your family and friends, reminding each other why we celebrate Christmas, and don’t let “what needs to be done” crowd out what has been done by a God who loves you more than life itself.
Here’s the point of Christmas: The Son of God loves you, his creation, so much that he chose to come down from his throne in heaven, to make himself one of us, to live as one of us, to die on behalf of us, to make us glorious. Nothing you’ve done, nothing you are, and nothing you will ever do can change that. He loves you too much for you to make him love you more or less, and Christmas is a sign of that love. It’s part of the big story of redemption that God wants us to know. It’s his story, and it’s your story.