Taylor-001I love Christmas.  I mean, I loooooove Christmas.  To me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  I’m sure you have your own list, but I love the carols, the cookies, the rum in my eggnog.  I love getting together with family and catching up.  I love watching my kids open their presents on Christmas morning.  I love the lights.  I love the snow.  I love candle light church services.  And I love that it all revolves around Jesus (whether people acknowledge it or not).  It’s like a multi-week party to celebrate the greatest gift this world has ever been given- God squeezing his fullness into a body just like yours or mine and then living amongst us- experiencing all the craziness we experience- the heartache, the laughter, the joy, the pain.  And then, even after living with such absurdly abnormal people as ourselves, he then died for us.  Emmanuel- God with us!  What a gift.

The problem is, that being mindful that it’s all about Jesus can be a challenge, especially around Christmas (ironically).  In fact, all of those things that I listed off as conduits of happiness can also completely detract from focus on Jesus.  From Uncle Joe drinking too much rum and not enough eggnog, to Aunt Lois turning “catching up” into a huge gossip-fest, to kids being ungrateful, to church services that feel more like Broadway than the road to Bethlehem, not to mention a society as a whole that has commercialized the holiday so much it makes me want to puke. Yes there are a lot of things that can seemingly take Christ out of Christmas.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  The question is: How do we keep Christ at the center of Christmas and experience joy in celebrating him with our family?  Below are some tips that may help you answer that question for yourself:

1.      Experience the joy of Jesus yourself- It’s easy to point to our family or the world around us and complain how they are ripping away the true meaning of Christmas. Instead of doing this let the celebration start within you.  Find the joy in celebrating Jesus within yourself.  Pray to him in private.  Sing songs about him, and to him.  Read the Christmas story with Him.  Talk with him, He wants to hear from you!  And thank Him for his gift.  Imagine what the world would be like if everyone was completely filled with thankfulness to God for what he did for us.  It would look quite different than it does now.  May that change start in you.

2.      Celebrate with those who are closest to you- Sit down with your wife or husband, with a cup of something hot, and share your best Christmas memories.  Ask each other what God is teaching you through this Christmas season.  And if you don’t have much of an answer then refer to step one.  Write your Christmas card together.  Then bring the kids in.  Read the Christmas story together. Build a ginger bread house.  Sing carols together.  Have your kids pick out toys to give away to charities like Operation ChristmasChild. Or watch one of the many Christmas classics there are to enjoy (who doesn’t like the claymation Abominable snowman, or Chevy Chase flying down a hill on a teflon-coated sled, George Bailey getting his life back, or Buddy the Elf getting smacked by a New York taxi cab??).  Laughter mixed with loved ones makes for great memories.

3.      SLOOOOOW DOWN!- I’ve heard it said that the antithesis of love is hurry, and I believe it.  I stink at loving others when I am in a hurry and you probably do too. Take time to enjoy who you are with and what you’re doing.  Pause, be still, and notice what’s going on around you and notice those around you.  Jesus did this so well- he would prolong a dinner date to talk with a heavy-hearted woman.  He would postpone his agenda to play with the neighborhood kids.  He would take time to share with a stranger the good news that God loves them.  He would set aside time with his father in heaven, one on one in prayer.  Slow down your activity and slow down your brain.  Picture your racing thoughts like a painted canvas and then take a fire hose to them until they drip off the bottom, and then focus your attention on what really matters- that which is right in front of you.  Again, return to step one and go from there.  Don’t let this season pass you by.  Enjoy it to the fullest.

4.      And finally… prepare and plan- The above steps are all well and good but lets face it, with all the happenings that this season brings they just aren’t going to happen without cutting some stuff out and planning for what really matters. Though saying No can be difficult and lead to others feeling hurt, this may be the best gift you can give to you, your spouse and your family, and to Jesus himself! First, plan out (with your spouse if your married) waaaaay in advance how you’d like to spend the holidays. Here’s a great little article from Focus on the Family to help with this. You don’t have to plan it by the minute, but make a list and mark on a calendar the events, traditions and activities you’d like to happen.  Next, get the shopping, wrapping and card-sending out of the way early!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent Christmas Eve in some back bedroom wrapping presents missing out on enjoying the time with my family (let alone making me exhausted the morning).  Don’t let procrastination steal your memories.  Get that stuff out of the way so that you can get back to what really matters. Prepare and plan for what matters most.

May the joy of Christ fill your Christmas season to the fullest and may you join Him in making this happen in you and for those around you.  God bless you, and (even though it’s not yet Thanksgiving) may I be the first to wish you MERRY CHRISTMAS!