Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

04 December 2011

Getting heads, hearts and hands ready for Christmas # 1

[Much of the content of this post is a re-post from a couple of years ago,
with a few additions.]


It's December and once again I'm thinking about how prepare myself and my family for Christmas.  We are surrounded by secular commercialism and tradition.  I am more than happy to give gifts and decorate our house.  It's all part of having fun as a family and making memories together.  And at this time of the year the calendar fills with all sorts of opportunities to celebrate - Christmas, the end of the year and at least where I live, the arrival of summer.
So in the midst of all of this, how do I make sure that my head and heart are filled with Jesus and God's goodness and my hands are busy serving Him, rather than being distracted by all that is going on around me?  And how do we encourage our children to do the same?
Here are three things that I try to think about as I seek to put Jesus' birthday at the centre of all that is December.

1. Pray

Before we do anything it is good to pray - pray that our heads and hearts will be in the Right spot and that our children will truly grasp what Christmas is all about and embrace the gospel. This could be a special prayer project for December.  (Or better still, a project for November.  But it's too late for that this year!)  And it's good to pray about each of our specific endeavours we are trying, as time and energy allows, to steer our children towards the real meaning of Christmas as we plan them and put them into action.

2. Determine to out-celebrate those in the secular world

Christmas is great. Catching up with family and friends, the presents, the cards in the mail, the food, the decorations...it's all good. But for those who know and love Christ there is so much more. This is the day we celebrate that God sent His Son to earth "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16b). The presents, the tinsel and the food are great and fun (and wonderful for creating terrific memories for our children and ourselves!) but the first Christmas day was an INCREDIBLE moment in history. We have much to celebrate. Those who know and love Christ should determine to out-celebrate what the consumerist world presents as Christmas. On that very first Christmas God sent us His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. That's as big as it gets.

To that end, I try to be wise in choosing which invitations to functions to accept during December. This may come as a contradiction having just said, "Head out there and out-celebrate the rest of the world!" But read on. There are plenty of Christmas parties to attend and if you dwell in the southern hemisphere, there are all those "winding up the year" events too. Not to mention the "we must catch up before Christmas" phenomenon.  I pick and choose around all of these social opportunities, trying carefully not to offend when I sometimes have to say, "Hey, December is pretty busy for us.  But January is really quiet.  Can we catch up then?" 

The bottom line is I want to save my energy - and the energy of my family - to make the best use of this gospel-laden month. Maybe I miss out on a few fun opportunities - but December is a really good month to accept invitations thoughtfully and intentionally.

3. Traditions are important

When I think of Christmas, my immediate childhood memories centre on decorating the Christmas tree and house, opening presents on Christmas morning, the food... And I remember these things because there was a tradition built up around of each of them.
So if we can develop traditions with our children that have the gospel "trapped" within them, then in years to come, when they reflect on their own childhood recollections of Christmas, they will have a recollection that is infused with Christ. If they are, we pray, still walking with the Lord, this memory will be a warm encouragement to them. If they have wandered, then this will be a gentle prompt. 

Christmas traditions infused with Christ are powerful. It is well worth spending some time thinking and praying about, planning carefully and implementing Christ-laden Christmas traditions that can occur every year with all the Christmas joy we can muster.

Tomorrow, some practicalities.

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