With the holidays upon us, it is easy to dread the stress and anxiety that accompany these annual events. Big-box stores began selling wreaths and replacement lights at the same time as they opened the season on Halloween. The carols we adore play in the background of chaotic Christmas commercials, numbing us to the melodies and their messages of peace. Is there any way to dial it down and connect instead to the truth about Advent?
Calming Christmas has become a counter-cultural effort. We are pulled, pushed, and prodded into understanding this season as a time of over-eating, over-spending, over-scheduling, and over-expecting. If we do not approach Advent with a plan to focus on the story of Christ, we may miss entirely the most important part of the celebration.
Here are some practical ideas to plan your own Counter-Cultural Christmas:
Memorize the Christmas story as a family. Review a few lines from Luke 2 during family devotions and use this practice to remind yourself of the reason for the holiday itself. You will find that it is not difficult to learn this passage and have a true and meaningful story to recite together on Christmas morning.
Advertising seeks to send a message about what we must do, who we must be, and how we must approach the holidays. Little of this contains any truth at all. If you choose to watch television together as a family, mute the commercials (or use your DVR to fast forward through them) and use that time to talk about what you are watching. If you are watching a holiday special, talk together about whether that programming is addressing the Biblical story of Christmas. Discuss how we can use our faith during the holidays to share the good news of Christ’s birth.
If you have a smartphone and a Bible app, listen to the audio version of Luke 2 while doing your Christmas shopping. When you are reminded of the birth of Christ, it is harder to find yourself drawn into the extreme materialism our culture encourages.
Instead of unending Christmas lists, encourage your kids to give rather than receive. Consider simplifying your purchasing and choose connection instead of consumption. Recognize that more is not necessarily better, even Jesus only received three gifts from the Wise Men.
Find moments of quiet to spend together. Stepping out of the hustle and bustle of the holidays can help us to keep necessary balance in our lives. Intentionally enjoy candlelight and soft carols while relaxing by the glow of your tree. Take the time to share family stories or talk about tree decorations that hold special meaning to you.
Instead of using your Nativity set as just a decoration, put one piece out at a time and use it as a teaching tool. As you set out each piece, read Bible passages about that person or animal. A concordance will help and you will find that by Christmas morning all the pieces will tell a story. Knowing these will deepen your understanding of the meaning of Christmas.
When the holiday stress begins to build, release something. Choose not to push through this season in an effort to just get done. Instead, intentionally spend your time. Attend events that add to the experience of Advent instead of pushing you to the brink of exhaustion.
The season of Advent is not meant to connect us so tightly to the world. Instead, this season gives us the opportunity to slowly walk through a deeper understanding of a true story of grace. The weeks leading up to Christmas can hold moments of reflection as we remember again that God so loved his people, he so deeply loved us, that he would send his Son into this broken world to make a way for us to draw near to him. And as Christ was born, God the Father knew the whole of what would come. Even hearing Jesus’ first cries, he could also see his death on a cross. There is hope for us in this truth, if we might just quiet ourselves enough to hear.
This is the time to plan for a Counter-Cultural Christmas. This is the time to choose a new way. During this season, let us place before us the truth found in scripture:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
This year, let us celebrate the truth and grace of Christmas in brand new ways.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster