I love Christmas.
I love the way the house is lit up with lights and decorations. I love the baking of Christmas cookies, the seasonal scents of balsam, cinnamon, and gingerbread. Who doesn’t enjoy the familiar Christmas tunes that admittedly start playing way too early, yet help create such a festive atmosphere? But what I love most are the Christmas traditions we have that surround Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yep, as the Andy Williams song from 1963 reminds us, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
As wonderful as Christmas can be, I must confess that in times past, I have allowed the celebration of the birth of Christ to become a festival of consumption, where the focus falls more and more on food, presents, and decorations and less and less on the coming of our Savior. The media doesn’t help. Just watch an hour of television and track the advertisers. In late November and early December, the only thing more numerous than Medicare ads are those about what to buy for Christmas.
But as Dr. Seuss reminds us,
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!… Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!” (1)
A little bit more indeed.
Recently, I watched an online promotion produced by Biola University, a private Christian University in California. In introducing their 2018 Advent Project, Stacie Schmidt, the school’s Librarian, made a few statements that captured my attention. Maybe because they struck close to home. Or perhaps because they stung just enough for me to emit a verbal “Ouch.” Speaking from a perspective of being a lover of books and fiction, she said,
“When I was a kid, Christmas was about the joy of the season, our family traditions, special treats, the delight of wrapped gifts and I still love those things. But like with my delight in imaginative tales, I had fallen in love with the celebration but missed the bigger picture. To love Christmas but not Christ is to love a shadow of something real. To love books and not people is missing the picture of how God has called us to connect relationally………The central focus of Scripture is “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us…” (Titus 2:13-14) ……This Advent Project is a time to consider our relationships through the prism of Christ’s arrival …..…But to stare at the Incarnation of Christ, to see Him as He is, recorded in the Word of God, we have no option but to be changed in all facets, including our relationship with others and with God. The Christmas season, the Advent, is anticipation, preparation, and exaltation at the person and work of Christ.” (2)
Hearing these words, I could not help but wonder, how often in the past was I guilty of loving the shadow of something real rather than the real thing. How often have I been chasing the shadows of Christmas? Frankly, the answer is simply, way too often.
Admittedly, there is much to distract me from “Joy to the World.” The only thing dwindling faster than my bank account is my patience. The only thing increasing is stress and frustration with traffic and crowds. And every commercial break is yet another temptation telling me I deserve this new digital device or my children and grandchildren will be happy forever if they unwrap this year’s must-have toy.
How have I avoided chasing those shadows? I still enjoy the traditions of the season, but I have found it helpful to keep Christmas in perspective by making four things a priority.
- Prayerful Pauses: Hit the pause button. Take frequent breaks. If shopping, stop, grab a cup of hot chocolate and soak in the sounds and scenes of Christmas…and pray for those who walk by. Don’t let the crowds frustrate you, let them become a focus of your prayers.
- Silent Gratitude: Find a moment — for me, it’s at night when I can turn off all the lights but the Christmas tree — when you can spend time in silence and give thanks to God for all the Christmases past, present and future. A spirit of gratitude always calms my spirit.
- Advent Reading: For years now, it is my daily custom during the advent season to read at least one devotional, if not two or three, as a way to keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Do it as a family!
- Generous Giving: Be a cheerful giver. Not just the gifts under the tree but purpose to make donations to favorite charities or become a secret Santa and help out a needy family.
Celebrate family, faith, and friends this holy day season and love what’s real. And may your Christmas be one full of Joys and void of Shadows.
Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas