When my husband and I were raising our children, we were not born again believers. We were not disciples of Christ. We were not seeking to follow Him. We were not seeking to learn from His word. That has changed! Now, only by His grace, that has all changed. I have been changed and my husband has been changed. As God’s word tells us, we have been transformed, a new creature!
As the excitement and wonder of Christmas is in full throttle for most of us, I reflect on how we did Christmas with our children. If I were to raise children again, because I have been changed and transformed by Christ, our Christmas season would be changed and transformed as well. It would look different now than it did all those years ago!
We’ve always known Christmas was about the birth of Jesus. We told our children it was all about Jesus. We were regular church attenders and our children went to Sunday school, so the birth of Christ was not some far off, foreign concept to us. We SAID Christmas was all about Jesus. We told our children that Christmas was all about Jesus, but all the activities that occupied our time and energy and left us stressed and utterly exhausted, had almost nothing to do with Jesus.
I can remember so well, the list of things to do. The expectations that other people placed on me. The expectations I placed on myself. It all left me drained. Completely drained. Stressed. Overwhelmed. Trying to please everyone and strained family relationships. Wishing it would just be over.
If our Christmas celebration was a varsity team, Jesus didn’t make the cut.
Our varsity team players, in no particular order were: Christmas trees, lights, ornaments, decorations, santa, visiting santa, writing santa letters, baking, shopping, manipulating our children to ask santa for a toy that we could find and afford. Oh how shopping for the “hot toy of the season” can suck the life right out of you. Christmas cards, more baking, wrapping, finding stocking stuffers, more shopping, financial distress. Coaching the kids once again to ask for toy “B” instead of toy “A” because santa was going to run out of toy “A.” More shopping, wrapping, baking, late nights. Christmas cards start arriving in the mail and I haven’t even started mine. More late nights. More of meeting those expectations. Joy…gone. Peace…gone. The most wonderful time of the year? No it wasn’t. My heart ached for something more!
I now know the reason my heart ached. I know the reason I was overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed. It was because Jesus was an afterthought in all of this Christmas hubbub! As these varsity players stood in the limelight of Christmas, Jesus sat quietly on the sidelines, patiently waiting to be noticed.
Instead of staying up late wrapping presents, I needed to be spending time wrapped in His presence! It is in the stillness and quiet that we hear Him whisper our name.
So, what would I change? What would I do different? With all the things the world has come up with to put Jesus on the sidelines of Christmas, HOW, OH HOW do we divert all the excitement and wonder of Christmas back to Jesus? If I had the chance to raise my children again, here is how I would do Christmas differently.
As parents, the way we spend our time and energy preparing for Christmas, the things that take priority on our to-do list of Christmas activities must be Christ centered. IT MUST BE! Otherwise our actions speak louder than our words and what our children SEE us doing will make more of an impact than what we SAY about Christmas. Are decorations, baking, lights, trees, shopping, Christmas cards and visits to santa wrong? NO! They are not. I’m not a fun hater. BUT, they must to be on the JV team. They must come 2nd, or 3rd or 4th.
I would teach my children that the most exciting, astonishing, magical, awe inspiring, full of wonder, joy bringing event of Christmas, is the birth of a baby. Not santa and the north pole. Instead of writing letters to santa asking for gifts, we would write letters to Jesus. We would ask Him to give us the gifts (or fruits) of the Spirit and I would teach my children about those gifts. I would build a small manager and place it in our home. Instead of teaching my children to excitedly wait for santa to come and fill the emptiness under our Christmas tree, I would teach my children to excitedly await a baby to fill that empty manger.
On Christmas Eve, instead of reading The Night Before Christmas, I would read Luke 2: 1-18. We would linger over the AWE and WONDER of an Angel of the Lord appearing to the shepherds and how afraid they were. With great excitement and joy I would emphasis verse 10-14. But the angel reassured them, “don’t be afraid!” he said. “I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS THAT WILL BRING GREAT JOY TO ALL PEOPLE. THE SAVIOR – YES, THE MESSIAH, THE LORD HAS BEEN BORN TODAY IN BETHLEHEM, THE CITY OF DAVID! AND YOU WILL RECOGNIZE HIM BY THIS SIGN: YOU WILL FIND A BABY WRAPPED IN STRIPS OF CLOTH, LYING IN A MANGER.” I would explain to them that immediately after the angel spoke these words, lots and lots of angels broke out in praise, saying “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND PEACE ON EARTH WITH WHOM GOD IS PLEASED.” We would break out in our own version of praise to God with singing, dancing and jumping and clapping.
I would explain to them how the shepherds hurried, with great urgency to Bethlehem to see if what the angel had told them was true. I would teach them to get up Christmas morning and rush downstairs to see if the baby had come, just liked the shepherds rushed to Bethlehem. Was the manger now filled with the greatest gift imaginable?
I would read them Matthew 2 and talk about the brightest start in the sky that led the wise men to baby Jesus. The Star of Bethlehem. Then, instead of searching the sky for santa and his reindeer, we would search the sky for the brightest star we could find. I would tell them that, just as the shepherds followed that light to find Immanuel, GOD WITH US, if they follow the the light of Jesus, they too, will find their way to God.
I would find an Advent devotional to do with my children so that each day focuses on preparing their hearts for Him, not santa.
Lastly, I would explain how all the other activities of Christmas (done in moderation), the lights, decorations, baking, presents, etc are preparation for the biggest and best birthday party of the year. A Happy Birthday banner would hang among the other decorations. Jesus would have the fanciest birthday cake ever. We would have one great party, complete with the singing of Happy Birthday to our Savior.
Would I still take my children to visit santa and write him letters? Yes, I would. But they would know that he is just a fun part of the celebration. They would know that santa isn’t real. Does that steal their joy during Christmas? I don’t think so. I think it redirects it to the proper place.
That is how I would change the WONDER AND EXCITEMENT OF IT ALL TO FOCUS ON JESUS!
** Note: My thoughts are not meant to start a firestorm about how Christian parents handle all the things that swarm around Christmas. I just wanted to share my heart and encourage others with ideas to make Jesus the main event at Christmas. I would love to hear ideas of how your family has kept Jesus at the forefront of their Christmas celebration.