Christmas movies show us the classic stereotypes associated with the holiday. Christmas is a time of love, a time of family togetherness, a time of leisure and fun and relaxation. And hopefully there will be plenty of those feelings to go around this season. Yet the holidays can also be a time of significant stress. Competing expectations from different members of the family, the pressures of finding just the right gift, the desire to create the perfect holiday memories – all of these things can make it hard to show love to those closest to us.
In Romans 12, the apostle Paul offers a number of practical instructions about love which we can apply as we try to love those around us well this holiday season:
A loving heart is genuinely interested in discerning the good from the evil (Rom 12:9). If holiday stresses stem from sin, they must be addressed – kindly, but firmly. You can’t love someone well by pretending that Aunt Sally’s sarcasm at every family function doesn’t hurt. At the same time, love also tries to draw out the good in the other person as much as possible.
Love is truly interested in the well-being of others (Romans 12:10). Ask yourself, “What can I find in the other person that I can love?” This doesn’t mean overlooking faults, but discovering those things in the other person which honor God. Perhaps this season always brings conflict with a spouse about where and when to celebrate Christmas with extended family. Try to find out why these celebrations are so meaningful to your spouse. You may both discover a way to honor the other person even if one of you has to compromise a treasured tradition this Christmas.
Love always keeps Jesus in view (Romans 12:11). Sometimes conflict makes us excuse our unloving attitude by saying, “Well, I just read that love has to be sincere, so I’ll wait until I feel loving before I care for the other person.” But Christmas is not primarily a celebration of our love for each other, but of Jesus’ love for us. Rather than getting upset over dinner arrangements or a gift that didn’t turn out as you had hoped, focus on the birth of Jesus – God in the flesh – which is the underlying reason for the Christmas holiday.
Love shares in the joys and sorrows of others (Romans12:12-13). Love looks for hope. It shares the disappointment others feel when expectations are not met. Love calls us to pray together about the things that matter most. Love shares generously. Love is hospitable, even when hospitality is hard.
God did not stand at a distance when his people were hard to love. Instead, he entered into his people’s story – our story – by taking on human form in the birth of Jesus. God took interest in our story. He approached us with grace. His love took practical form. He reached out to us for the glory of God.
In this Christmas season, look for practical ways to love those around you. Find ways to express your interest in your children, in your spouse, in your extended family. Learn what makes them excited, and what disappointments they fear in the holiday season. And then remember that we can love only because God has loved us. Tell again the story of God’s love that led Jesus to leave heaven for you, and let that story give new life to your life this Christmas.