Keeping Christ in Christmas

Christmas in light of the cross
Christmas in light of the cross

Someone on an online forum I belong to recently asked this question: “How do we keep Jesus Christ and His birth at the center of our Christmas celebration?”  This really got me thinking and I pray that my response will bless you, too.

Growing up our family never went to church apart from going with my grandparents.  I wasn’t raised to pray or read the Bible and yet, my family celebrated Christmas.  We put up stockings and a Christmas tree and exchanged gifts and my parents played Santa just like everyone else.

By the time I was a teenager, I was an outspoken atheist that found pleasure in ridiculing and arguing with Christians.  So when I was in college, I questioned my parents about our Christmas festivities, asking them why we celebrated Christmas if we weren’t Christians.  I still wanted to exchange gifts (come on, who wouldn’t?), but I wished we would do it for New Years so that it wasn’t a religious event.  I don’t actually remember how this played out, but the point is that I knew that whatever we were doing wasn’t right.

Sadly, despite being a hard-hearted atheist, I really had no idea what Christianity was all about.  I did not understand that Christians believed that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh and that Christmas was celebrated to remember the day He was born on earth to live as a man.  I also did not realize that Easter was the celebration of His resurrection from the dead after He had shed His blood on the cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin.

It was not until many heated debates with a Christian young man (who later became my husband) that I heard the good news of the gospel – that I could be forgiven and set free from my slavery to sin by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on my behalf.

So, with that background, let me encourage everyone how IMPORTANT it is to keep CHRIST at the focus of your Christmas celebrations.  That is certainly a good question to ask, but, at the same time, I fear that the question that’s being asked is actually the wrong question.  I think the real question, the better question, is this: HOW DO WE KEEP CHRIST AT THE CENTER OF OUR EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR LIFE?  This is really the heart of the matter because I think that as we keep our heart focused on Him, when we live and move and have our being in Him, then He will be guiding us away from the crazy busy commercialization of this holiday that has actually become more of a deterrent to our devotion to Jesus than an asset.

In response to the question – “How do we keep Christ at the center of Christmas,” the answer is to walk by faith and not by sight, to set our minds on things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father.  Every advent activity needs to be evaluated by whether it is drawing your family closer to Jesus or pushing you farther away.

Yes, we festively decorate our home and Christmas tree.  Yes, we buy gifts for our children and other members of our family.  Yes, we drive around town and look at the pretty Christmas lights.

But, no, we don’t spend days and weeks putting up and taking down decorations.  We refuse to go into debt feeding our kids’ appetites for stuff and our own appetite to impress others with our earthly possessions. And, no, we do not attend a dozen holiday plays, cookie exchanges and Santa Claus festivals because truthfully they take our family’s eyes off the true GIFT of Jesus and just add busy-ness to our already full lives.

But, once again, these are not decisions that are made just for the Christmas advent season, these are decisions that we have to make each and every day.  Every day we have to choose for ourselves who we will serve and as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  This means walking daily deciding what God wants us to do that particular day and that particular week, rather than just saying, “Yes” to every fun opportunity that comes our way.

Truthfully, in my almost 20 years now of being a follower of Jesus Christ, I have learned that the Christian life is so much more than a list of do’s and don’ts, shoulds and shouldn’ts.  It really is a living relationship with the great Creator, the Ruler of the Universe and the Lord of my soul.  If the Lord is calling you to spend a month putting on a Christmas play for your neighbors, if the Lord is calling you to organize the cookie exchange to end all cookie exchanges, if the Lord is calling you to decorate your home in a thousand lights, then DO IT!  But, don’t do it to “keep up with the Joneses.”  Don’t do it because “everybody’s doing it.”

Truly, when you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will find Him.  Trust Him.  His Word is a light to Your feet.  Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

As for our family, here are some things we do that help us not lose Jesus in the midst of our Christmas celebration –

We limit ourselves to three gifts per child.  This limits not only the money, but also the time and energy, we spend on Christmas gifts.

Each of our four children choose a gift for each of their siblings and parents.  They use their own money that they have earned doing chores throughout the year to buy them.  This helps them focus on the giving, rather than just the receiving, of gifts.

My husband and I and our children give our gifts to the recipients, rather than taking our gifts.  This, too, helps to keep the focus on giving rather than receiving.

My husband and I try to have most of our gifts bought before December 1, so my mind is not being consumed by shopping.  The stress of finding “just the right gifts” was frequently enough to make me anxious and angry, not good for the Christmas spirit.

I have to commit myself to going to bed on time every night.  If it’s not done by 10:30, then it doesn’t need to be done.  Tomorrow is another day.  A tired mommy is a cranky mommy.

We enjoy sending Christmas letters – now via email – but try to keep the focus on the goodness of God and His sustaining grace.

We spread out opening gifts over several days or even weeks.  With two sets of out-of-town grandparents, plus aunts and uncles, plus our own family’s gifts, we wanted everyone’s gifts to receive the attention they deserved.  This means our kids might receive their gifts from us a week before Christmas, so that they can enjoy them and still appreciate the gifts from their grandparents they’ll receive on Christmas Eve.  Does this make sense?

We taught our kids from a young age that playing pretend is fun, but it’s just pretend.  God is real.  Santa is pretend.  We used to “play Santa” and do stockings and leave Santa cookies, but our kids knew the truth.  I know this is a big can of worms I’m opening here, but I believe God wants us to be truth bearers and I wanted my kids to know that Mommy always speaks the truth.  I want them to trust me, to know that I will not deceive them.  That does not mean that we can’t play pretend – but they know we are pretending.  Does this make sense?

Christmas morning we have family breakfast and worship before any gifts are opened.

And, yes, we do try to have daily prayer and scripture reading and discussion as a family.  But, this is not just for the advent season.  Why would we only read the Bible for the couple weeks before Christmas?  Jesus is not just the King of Christmas, He is the King every day of the year!

I love you guys and I pray that this is an encouragement to you.  I am in no way writing this to make you feel guilty about what you’re not doing.  No!  I am writing this because I’ve had to make it up as I go along for the last twenty years and I am grateful that the Lord has impressed this on me.

In His Service and In His Grip,

TWIG

Submission and Brokenness

“Again and again we will see places where we must yield up our rights,
as Jesus yielded up His for us. We shall have to see that the thing in
us that reacts so sharply to another’s selfishness and pride is simply
our own selfishness and pride, which we are unwilling to sacrifice. We
shall have to accept another’s ways and doings as God’s will for us
and meekly bend the neck to all God’s providences. That does not mean
that we must accept another’s selfishness as God’s will for him — far
from it — but only as God’s will for us.”

The Calvary Road
By Roy Hession
copyright 1990
page 74

A Gentle and Quiet Spirit

“Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.  And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” 1 Peter 3:3-6

Today let’s dig into those two words – gentle and quiet (ESV).  (KJV translates them as meek and quiet.)

That first word translated gentle or meek comes from the Greeks word “prays,” meaning mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness.  On the Blue Letter Bible website’s Outline of Biblical Usage, it is described thus:

Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. In the OT, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend against injustice. Thus, meekness toward evil people means knowing God is permitting the injuries they inflict, that He is using them to purify His elect, and that He will deliver His elect in His time (Isa 41:17, Luk 18:1-8). Gentleness or meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will (Gal 5:23).

When I read this, it leaped off the page because of its context.  Read it again with me.  I am being subject to my own husband even when he is not obeying God’s word because my spirit is meek before God.  I am humble before God.  I trust GOD more than my own sense of what “seems right” to me.

This same word – Strong’s Number G4239 appears 3 other times in the New Testament, twice referring to Jesus Christ, our gentle and humble king.

  • “”Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5 ESV
  • “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:29 ESV
  • “”Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”” – Matthew 21:5 ESV

That second word, translated quiet, is “hesychios” which in the Greek means quiet, tranquil or peaceable.

The only other time it is used in the New Testament is in 1 Timothy 2:2 where Paul is urging that prayers be made “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

For any of you that know me, being “quiet” is not high on my list of character traits.  I talk rather loudly and I talk rather a lot.  But, that doesn’t mean that my spirit cannot be gentle and quiet.

On occasion I’ve worried that I must speak in whispers or sit in silence in order to have the quiet spirit to which 1 Peter 3:4 is referring.  With further study, though, I am convinced that this gentle, meek, quiet, peaceable spirit is not so much based on volume or even quantity, as it is on the quality and nature of my speech and the hidden person of my heart.

Am I anxious?  Am I quarrelsome?  Am I irritable?

-or-

Am I joyful?  Am I humble?  Am I meek?

So, then, how exactly am I to adorn myself with this imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious?

Specifically, I display my gentle, quiet spirit by submitting (hypotasso = “appointed under” – see previous entry) myself to my own husband, even as Sarah obeyed (hypakouo = “hear under,” to listen, to harken to a command) Abraham, calling him lord.

Imagine my dismay when I discovered that this Greek word hypakouo is the very same word for obey found in Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20, “Children, obey your parents…”  This is also the same Greek word describing that the winds and the sea (Matthew 8:27) and even unclean spirits (Mark 1:27) obey Jesus.

We are being called to harken to our husband, to hear and obey him.  Yes, my children do have the freedom to discuss things with me and yes, I am called to be a good helpmate to my husband, but ultimately, I am being asked to submit myself under his authority over me and to obey his spoken word.  Is this easy?  No.  Will things sometimes not go as I would like?  Yes.  Is God sovereign?  Indeed.  Yes.

Lord, help me.  In my weakness, may Your strength be magnified and made manifest.  May Your kingdom come and Your will be done here on earth as it is in Heaven.  May You be glorified in my home, in my household, in my family as we submit ourselves to You and to one another and to those in authority over us.

To God be the glory.

TWIG

Adorning Myself

“Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.  And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” 1 Peter 3:3-6

This time of year, as most families are spending hours (or even days and weeks) decorating for Christmas, the issue of how we are adorning ourselves seems especially appropriate.

I realize that if you stopped reading at verse 3 (“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear”) you might be left feeling that it is wrong to braid your hair or to wear gold jewelry or fancy clothes.  Maybe it would even be wrong to decorate our houses with sparkly lights and glittery tinsel and exquisite ornaments???

Yet, in context, I believe that this passage is really more of a comparison of outward versus inward adornment.

I have to ask myself, how am I trying to draw attention?

Am I more concerned with impressing other people with my perfectly styled hair and makeup, my festively decorated home, or with pleasing God by my inward beauty?

As I stop concentrating my efforts on the outward appearance of perfection, I can be drawn into that imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is indeed very precious in God’s sight.

As a culture, are we spending so much energy on the APPEARANCE of perfection that we are left merely whitewashed tombs.  If we peeled back all that bling, what would we find?

This time of year, more than any other, as we prepare our hearts and homes to celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ, God with us, may we humble ourselves with gentle and quiet spirits.  May we sit at His feet in adoration of the only one who is truly and perfectly perfect.

TWIG