Am I the only one struggling to keep Christ at the center of my Christmas? I can’t be the only one. (If you are, too, you’re not alone).
For the past few years, as the colors of fall begin to fade, I begin to think about how I should be intentional about Advent. “This year” tends to become the year I’ll be more intentional, because “last year” I just didn’t meet my own expectations.
Somehow I forgot to read my Advent devotions on some days. Even when I did read them, my focus was immediately redirected to seemingly more pressing issues (what am I going to buy for dad this year?).
Needless to say, the culture in which we live makes it difficult to focus on the true reason for the season.
However, are we simply making it harder on ourselves, too? Are our expectations of ourselves too grand? Meaning, are we expecting to maintain the same high levels of celebration, people pleasing (even self pleasing), and sheer doing as in years past, while simultaneously trying to make Jesus the center of our attention?
Somehow Christ always seems to fall through the cracks when maintaining every festive food tradition and gift-giving expectation becomes the focus.
Shopping takes precedence over silence.
Purchase over prayer.
Gluttony over giving.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like something’s got to give. Either that, or our perspectives need some shifting.
When I was a child, the Christmas Eve service felt much like an obligation. I enjoyed it for the most part, but it still felt like a duty—like a box that needed to be checked off.
My legalistic self justified—and eagerly welcomed—the rest of our holiday festivities since we had spearheaded the time with a brief service at church. We had also lit the Advent wreath at our dinner table all month.
On top of that, sometimes we read the Christmas story out of Luke on Christmas morning before digging into our stockings and opening the long-awaited gifts. (All the while I strained to focus more on the story being read than the stuffed animal poking its furry head out of my stocking).
In retrospect, this was a very childish way to view Christmas.
When Jesus tells his disciples that they need to become like children (Matthew 18:3), this sort of holiday childishness is certainly not to what he is referring. Rather, he wants them to take on the lowly position of a small child. Nearly powerless yet full of faith, wonder, and awe.
One precious thing we must gain from little children is a sense of childlike wonder; the kind that comes with the first snow or the crackling of an oft-unlit fireplace. With the excitement and anticipation of a neatly-wrapped box, not because of material lust for what’s inside, but for sheer excitement of receiving something that could not be gained by the child’s own doing.
In relation to the gift of Christmas—God incarnate, Immanuel—there is nothing that humankind could have done, or ever do, to deserve such. This babe, God made flesh, came to us to seek and save the lost. To bring hope to a destitute and dying world.
How do we reclaim wonder this Christmas season? Perhaps through a return to the utter miracles of Christmas.
Remember the young virgin who miraculously bore the very Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Recall the magi, who traveled far and wide—following a star—to humbly worship this child. Dwell upon the heavenly host that welcomed the lowest of the low—smelly shepherds—to be the first to come and adore the newborn King of kings.
In the words of one of my favorite new Christmas songs, “Who would have dreamed or ever foreseen that we would hold God in our hands?” Truly, this miracle of the Incarnation must inspire wonder.
The God of magnificent glory and majesty humbled himself to the point of humanity in order to dwell with us, share in our sufferings, and ultimately to die for us, bearing our sin and shame.
The hymn in Philippians 2 beautifully recounts the humility of Christ,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God
a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6–8)
Just so, we ought to remember. So should we stand in awe. So should our hearts be filled with childlike wonder this Christmas season as we behold the King of kings, Immanuel, in the form of a tiny babe.