Monday, December 15, 2014
A Gospel-Centered Christmas
Every parent is anxious to give their kids a Christmas "experience." I'm no exception. I want my kids to soak up the magic of the holidays and create beautiful lasting memories.
But...memories of what? What is it that we want our kids to come away with after the trees and the lights come down in January?
If you peel away the layers of presents, materialism, and massive amounts of fattening food, the world would say that Christmas is ultimately about three things:
These are something everyone can agree on. People throw a few extra dollars into the can outside the grocery store and donate some junk to Good Will and feel very warm and fuzzy inside.
Christians have a tendency to boil Christmas down to these three things, too. In a desperate effort to escape materialism and greed we raise our kids to think Christmas is the special time of year when we are extra nice to people. Moms go crazy trying to come up with as many kid-friendly service projects as they can squeeze in before December 25th. Christmas becomes a flurry of extra "good deeds" with Jesus mixed in there somewhere.
To the world Christmas is about reaching a generosity quota. How about for us?
Being gospel-centered does not mean being anti - good deed. Just the opposite! But it's not our good deeds we are primarily focused on. We have to take a step back and evaluate the source of all this "good will toward men." Where do love, generosity, and peace come from? The world says they come from within. The Bible says they come from without - from Jesus Christ.
As in all parts of the Christian life we immediately want to jump to, "What can I do?" We take cookies to neighbors, send presents to homeless shelters, and serve in soup kitchens. Is it possible that all of the "doing" during Christmas time distracts us from the "done?" Christ's birth actually accomplished something. Do we give ourselves enough time to think about it? And more importantly, do our kids know what it's all about?
Christmas is not about what we do for Jesus. It's about what He has done for us. His birth initiated the great exchange: our sin for Christ's righteousness (Bridges). At Christmas we are not just gazing at a baby in a manger. God became man. The Creator of the universe traded the glories of heaven to walk the earth in human flesh.
Let that sink in.
Christmas is a platform for the whole gospel. We like to give ourselves credit if the baby Jesus gets a higher ranking than Santa, but we can't stop there. How can we put the gospel in terms a child can understand so that it goes beyond the baby in the manger? We tell our little ones:
"Jesus was born to do something amazing. All of us need the sin taken out of our hearts and perfection put in its place. Jesus came as a baby so He could grow up to live a perfect life and then put that perfect life in our hearts. Then, since we can't take the sin out, He took it out by taking the punishment it deserved."
It takes concentrated effort to point our kids back to what Christ did. Kids are always ready to jump into the next craft or service project, but it takes time, conversation, and quiet to focus on what Jesus' birth means.
With that in mind, what are some practical ways we can help our children understand what we're really celebrating?
Nothing helps us focus our hearts on the "Word made flesh" like the Word itself. Advent readings are an excellent tool. The goal is to take a different passage of scripture every day the month leading up to Christmas and show how it points to the coming Messiah. Here are a few easy ways to implement it:
1. The Jesus Storybook Bible has a great schedule of Old Testament readings for advent. Sally Lloyd-Jones does an excellent job showing how each story points to a coming Redeemer. It's fun to start the Christmas season by going to the very beginning of the Bible.
2. Advent Readings for the Very Young uses a nativity set to illustrate passages specifically dealing with Christ's birth. You can easily use a nativity set you already have. This list is especially helpful if you are including toddlers in your advent readings.
3. If you want to make your own list of readings but aren't sure how each passage ties in to Christ, the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible is a very helpful resource. You can pick any passage and the notes will show you the gospel connection.
4. Another option is studying the different Names of Jesus. Read a passage of scripture each day that focuses on a name for Christ. Every name will add a paper strip to your growing advent chain.
Give yourselves time to absorb the implications of Christ coming to earth. Saturate each day with God's Word. Be ready to initiate conversations with your kids. Don't become so busy with holiday activities that you can't answer their questions.
And then - craft away! Make paper snow flakes. Blow out birthday candles for Jesus. Serve Christmas dinner at your local gospel mission. Jump into all of your favorite Christmas traditions with fresh enthusiasm. This year your kids will know what it's all about. The excitement will run so much deeper than being extra nice and generous for a few weeks.
We are celebrating salvation.
Photo credit: http://shepherdproject.com/tag/bible/