I am here for Christmas.
I am here for early Christmas decorations.
I am here for obnoxious Christmas music.
I am here for Christmas socks and earrings and scarves.
All good sense goes out the window during the Christmas season.
It’s fun. But as I slowly wade into the deep, deep waters of red and green and tinsel, I wonder what parts say “Christian” and what parts say “world.”
Because truthfully, the line might get fuzzy sometimes.
Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise, but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
I worry about what I’m doing during this season that is wise and what is unwise. Don’t get me wrong, God loves a celebration and a feast just as much as the next guy, but I wonder if in the name of Jesus, we take things too far–going the wrong way–and forget the point.
I’m talking about myself right now, obviously.
If I was standing outside of my life looking in (a la Ebenezer Scrooge and A Christmas Carol), would I be able to tell I’m a Jesus follower celebrating the birth of my Savior or just partaking in the American traditions of Christmas, void of any real meaning or religious importance?
I’ve been wrestling with this for years now. For me, it started with questioning the amount of gifts we were giving the girls and how much consumerism we seemed to be encouraging in our house. All the way back in 2011 (when Ellie was two and Harper was nine months old), I realized we were being inundated with things we didn’t need, clothes they would never wear, and toys they never played with. We were privileged enough to not have a lot of needs and our wants seemed to be excessive as well. Soon after the 2011 Christmas season, we began to handle birthday celebrations and Christmas gift-giving differently.
I didn’t want to go into debt giving people gifts to show we cared, and I knew people were spending money they didn’t have on gifts for our family.
There was no Jesus in that nonsense, and it needed to stop.
Seven years into this intentional journey of celebrating a Christian holiday in a world working hard to take the Jesus part out of it, we’re a lot more aware of our tendencies and how to prepare for the holidays with a focus on our Savior. We’re still evolving and working through this. We’re still losing focus and getting caught up in the wrong things, but we’re also better at course-corrections. We do some very specific things to keep our lists, expectations, and focus in check. I’m sharing them, not because I demand you do the same, but to encourage you to see your holiday traditions and routines through the lens of Christ-in-a-manger and what would change if that was the first thing you worked on celebrating. It will look different for all of us. It will look different based on what gifts and talents God has given you and your family. But for us, it looks like this:
I know it’s easy to skip it this time of year, but I prayerfully ask you to not. Obedience is worship and if we want to do our holidays different than the non-Christian, we’ve got to make sure we’re giving our tithe before we do anything else. It’s so tempting to spend that ten percent elsewhere because there are so many things to buy or contribute to, but this year, don’t skip the tithe and see what God can do with your obedience.
Stick to the four-gift rule
It’s something I came across on Pinterest years ago and we’ve followed some variation of it since 2012. You give your kids four gifts: one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing they wear, and one thing they read. For the wear, we’ve changed it to one outfit plus winter boots. For the read, they normally each get a set of books. They also get Christmas Eve boxes and stockings full of junk so it’s more than enough gifts for our girls.
Simple is best
As we’ve tightened our circle for healthy boundaries and survival, we’ve whittled down our gift list as well. When we understand love isn’t determined by how much money we spend on a gift or how many gift cards we pass out, the need to impress people vanishes. A chunk of our Christmas budget is spent on cards to send to everyone we love and, for most people, that’s all you’re getting from us. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We love you, we are thankful for your friendship, we are thinking of you, and here’s a pretty picture of us smiling for you. The end.
Less social media during the holidays
The quickest way to feel like our traditions, our decorations, our family meals aren’t enough? See someone else’s Instagram or Facebook posts. My head knows full well that those magical pictures are probably staged and pretend, but my heart doesn’t always remember. If I want to be more joyful and less distracted by what the internet tells me I’m lacking, I have to intentionally put down my phone during the next month or so. If Jesus came to take away my sins, I’m not going to the internet where greed, jealousy, and competition fester.
An easy way to keep myself in check as we go through this holiday season is to ask, “Are my holiday preparations and celebrations any different than a non-believers?” And if the answer is no, I start looking for ways to change that.
I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t steal!” are you going to rob people blind? Who would suspect you? The same with adultery. The same with idolatry. You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you Jews that the outsiders are down on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away. -Romans 2:18-24, The Message
You can get by with anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law.
You mean thousands of years ago people were using God and His law to get away with ungodly things and it turned outsiders off to God?
I think that’s the same with how Christians do holidays. If we’re not doing anything different than the world, but claiming all our celebrations and spending and glitter are about Jesus, people aren’t going to see that following Jesus transforms us. If we’re not behaving differently or spending our resources differently, people aren’t going to be drawn to what we’re presenting because it is everything they already have.
With enough out-of-context Scripture quoting and inspirational Jesus decorations, we can make anything seem about worship and obedience while actually being empty and selfish.
I don’t know the right answer to the tension we should be acknowledging and living in, but ignoring it seems wrong. We are called and set apart for His glory, not ours, and if we get too wrapped up in the world’s Christmas celebrations instead of Christ’s, it would seem we’re actually showing people how to live in the world and not with Christ.
What does this mean for your house? What does it mean for my family? It means we keep asking questions and re-evaluating. It means we don’t allow some things in, and we purposefully do others. I’m not sure our gift rule is where everyone starts. But I am sure all of us start with tithing and being aware of who we let influence our holidays, and it will take us on a never-ending journey to more Jesus and less world.
At least that’s my hope and prayer for my family. And yours too.
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