This week we begin a new Christmas series called, “Unwrapping Christmas.” As a church body we are looking at doing “Christmas different” this year and we’ll be carrying this theme over into the student ministry.
Christmas is that feel-good time of year when the lights are up, the holiday music is flowing and the cheer is palpable in the air. It’s also the time of year when we go through the same Christmas routine as always and pass another holiday season without necessarily thinking through how the story of Christmas is meant to change us, not just be a backdrop to two weeks off from school. So, this Christmas we’re going to take a fresh look at the Christmas story with some new insights to help us understand how revolutionary Jesus’ arrival on Earth really was. When we think of the Christmas story this year, let’s be reminded that Jesus is more than we need during the holiday season, and for the rest of the year too.
What was it that used to make the holidays special when you were a kid? Was it the chill in the air signaling that Christmas break was right around the corner? Baking and decorating ginger bread cookies with a sibling or your mom or dad? Or, maybe it was that feeling you got on Christmas Eve as you waited for the morning when you could finally tear into those beautifully wrapped packages underneath your tree. Whatever may have made the holidays a special time for you, there is one thing that tends to define the Christmas season for most of us: family. When we are young, our families define what Christmas looks like from the traditions they keep to the way they express the story of Jesus to those around them. And, for those of us who are now raising families of our own, we are now defining Christmas for our families. It can feel a bit overwhelming establishing the values, traditions and attitudes that revolve around this idea of Jesus’ arrival on this Earth.
While most students may be able to tell us the “real” meaning of the season, they aren’t necessarily connecting it to the value of the Christmas story. Developmentally, our students are in a place where it is difficult to think outside of their own world and their own lives. They may have head knowledge of the Christmas story, but in order to take that and bring it down to heart level, there has to be an experience that they can call their own. This is especially important for those of us with middle school and younger high school students who are still in the developmental stage of egocentric abstraction. During this stage, your student is the center of his or her own world and is not easily able to identify with ideas and concepts that are not personally connected to their own feelings. However, when they have the chance to experience the joy of reaching out to others in the midst of other’s true needs, they can personally identify with the value of the Christmas story.
For those of us with older high school students, now is the time when they are beginning to widen their worldview and understand the world outside as more than the sum of their own feelings and experiences. For them, the experience of reaching out to others is a chance to put legs to the social and global concerns that are already stirring in their hearts. Once the meaning of the Christmas story is tangible through personal experience, it isn’t easily forgotten in the mind of your teen. Another thing to remember is that though developmentally your students are in a place where they may not fully “get” the meaning of the Christmas story, we as the adults in their lives are. It is necessary for us to set the example and show them the importance of the Christmas story. So, we may need to take some time on our own to reflect on the value of Jesus’ arrival on Earth before we can begin to define that for our students.
Christmas Different Action Point
This Action Point is where we, as parents, can start to define what Christmas is truly about through the traditions we establish and the way we express the Christmas story—in our homes, in our schools, in our churches, in our neighborhoods and to the world at large. This is not just an exercise for the Christmas season, but rather a great time to start refocusing our family’s attention on putting Christ back into His rightful place. So, this Christmas as you and your family settle into the usual gate of the holiday season, take a moment to pray, reflect and search your heart for how you want to represent the Christmas story to your family. And then, do something together as a family that will allow those values to be expressed in a way that will forever shape the way they “do” Christmas.
Here are some ideas for ways you and your family can connect to and define the Christmas story together:
- Adopt a family for Christmas through the Salvation Army: Salvationarmyusa.org.
- Volunteer at a local homeless shelter to serve a meal on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
- Give one less gift this year to each family member and instead buy gifts for children whose parents are in prison through Angel Tree: Angeltree.org/angeltreehome.
- If you have a musical family, visit a convalescent home or local children’s hospital and sing some of those Christmas favorites.
- Help the local hospice or meals-on-wheels organization distribute Christmas dinners. You can help prepare the actual meals or donate your time and car to transport the meals to the elderly or sick.
- Look through Martha Stewart and other crafty magazines or old craft books for Christmas-inspired crafts and buy enough supplies to have a hospital ward of children or a retirement home ward make crafts or ornaments with you and your family.
- Ask your church if there is a family that attends that could use some extra help this holiday season. Invite them over for Christmas dinner or offer to buy and decorate a Christmas tree for them.
This Christmas, as you celebrate the gift of Jesus and the story of God’s redemption in all of our lives, take the time to put that message into motion. Christmas is not just about giving things away so that we get that warm fuzzy feeling, or because we want to “share the wealth.” It’s about expressing God’s heart for justice, love and reconciliation.
As well, here is an encouraging blog post entitled “10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism” by Joshua Becker. Check it out at: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/2011/08/03/escaping-excessive-consumerism/