As I write this article there are twenty days until Christmas. In October the stores started loading their shelves with Christmas décor, Christmas candy, and Christmas toys. Nervous parents headed out looking for the newest trends, seeking to fulfill their children’s Christmas wishes. More recently you may have survived Black Friday’s crowds seeking elusive bargains, or you may have braved the elements to participate in the community’s festivities and parades. Hours have been, or will be, spent decorating the tree and putting up light displays to astonish even the hardest of hearts. And why not do these things? They bring joy and wonder to those who view the décor and receive the gifts.
I remember, as a child, driving around with my aunt and her family through the suburbs of Pittsburgh, oohing and aahing at the lights on the homes. Even now, viewing the sparking lights in the dark night, I sometimes imagine I am with the shepherds as the angels appear in the heavens, glorifying God and announcing the Savior’s birth. Then again, I might be with the wise men, as they look to the heavens, following the star to the young King.
There are many ways to celebrate the season, but unfortunately, many of our celebrations have very little to do with the actual season of Christmas. In fact, some of our traditions actually take away from the real meaning of the holiday. We put up lights on our trees and on our homes, but we forget about the Light of the world who came to earth that night. We fill the space under the tree with gifts wrapped in bright Santa paper and gold and silver ribbons or in gift bags overflowing with sparkling tissue paper, hiding its treasure inside. Unfortunately, as the gifts multiply, they often push the nativity scene farther under the tree, hiding the image of the Child laid in a manger, the One who came to set us free.
How can we celebrate Christmas without the secular nature of the season overtaking us? I have a few ideas to help you keep in touch with the real Reason for the season!
Meet the Real Santa Claus: Whether or not you are a true believer, share with your children the story of the original Santa Claus—Saint Nicholas of Myra. He lived many years ago and served as a bishop in the church. Nicholas was known as a devout and generous man who was very concerned for the poor, the weak, and the needy. One famous story tells of his gift of dowries to three poor daughters of a faithful Christian man so they could marry and not be forced to live a life of prostitution. Okay, maybe that last part isn’t fit for the younger children; nevertheless, share the story of the man behind the red suit and encourage your family to follow his example.
Be a Giver this Christmas: Wherever you turn you will find families who are struggling to make ends meet. In many cases their children won’t have a tree, much less presents under it. Set aside a day to go shopping for others this Christmas. Take your children to the store and buy gifts for those in nursing homes who have no family, for children in group homes or in children’s homes (also known as orphanages), or in homeless shelters, who otherwise might not have a very merry Christmas.
Give the gift of your presence by volunteering to help at a Christmas party, to sing Christmas carols to the residents, and to visit those who have no family to visit them. Help serve a Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter. Encourage your children to go through their closets and find their gently used toys and clothing and taken them to a women’s shelter where women and their children, having escaped from abuse, sometimes with little more than their clothing, can enjoy what has become commonplace and “yesterday’s news” to your family. Hey, you can even get a tax deduction!
Invite Christ into Your Home: Where is your nativity scene? Is it sitting haphazardly under the tree, knocked over by the cat looking for a place to sleep? Is it hidden by the gifts already taking up space? Why not make a special place for the crèche this year? Put it in full view, not as just another decoration, but as the foremost reason for your celebration. Make putting the nativity together a family project, talking about each of the pieces—the shepherds, the wise men, the angels and the animals, and Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus, reading again the story of Christ’s birth. You might even have the children act out the story with the figures. (If you do, I would probably buy some that are unbreakable!) What? You don’t have one? Get yourself out and find one and make it a part of your focus.
Don’t Wait ‘till Christmas: Most of our churches are full twice a year: at Christmas and Easter. Hundreds of thousands of C & E Christians, or as one author calls them, holly and lily Christians, pour out in droves to share in the traditions of their families, and we are glad to have them! However, once the service ends, so does their “spiritual” service. Don’t wait until Christmas to attend church! Come this Sunday. Listen to the Word of God as we celebrate Christ’s birth and prepare for Christ’s coming again. Need a little bit of joy in the midst of the craziness? Come to church. We have joy and peace to share, as well as the new of the One who loves you more than anyone else could. Then keep coming to church, you won’t believe the difference it can make!
My prayer is that you will have a beautiful Christmas season, filled with family and laughter and happiness. Most of all, I pray that you will know the depth, and the height, and the width of the love of God that was demonstrated for you when He sent His Son Jesus, not just to be born in ignoble circumstances, but to die on the cross as a sacrifice.
May you be filled with the peace that comes from knowing God’s love for you and the joy that will carry you through anything, because you know that God is with you whatever happens and wherever you may go.
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church