Start the Conversation:
Everywhere you look people have decorated for Christmas. But the characters of Christmas in America range from Santa to Snoopy to the Elf on the Shelf and Jack Skellington. What is Christmas, really? And who are the characters of the real Christmas story? How in the world do we Christ back into Christmas when most of our neighbors do not even believe in the reality of God?
The connecting point:
There are many onramps to this conversation during the season. From advertising campaigns and Christmas-themed movies to gift giving, light and nativity displays and holiday celebrations— everywhere you look, is a nod to Christmas and the Child it harolds. Each and every one of those is an opportunity to ask a question, make an observation and publicly wonder.
The point of connection— may be right in front of us, if only we look. Here are a few simple ideas to start looking for connection:
- Turn on any radio station in December— even the secular ones— and they are baring music for the Season. Many of our favorite Christmas Carols are chalk full of deep theological meaning and ripe for conversation. Here are a few to consider.
- Many Christmas movies, even ones without an explicit spiritual meaning, include redemptive ideas and storylines this time of the year. This may be just the opportunity to start a conversation on grace with someone who may not otherwise engage. Here is a Christmas Movies Conversation Guide to get you thinking.
- Advent calendars are EVERYWHERE. A toy a day, a book a day, a candy a day!? They even have them for our pets at this point. This is about more than counting down to December 25. We wait during Advent because we are waiting for Christ. Consider some Christ-centered Advent resources to discuss with friends or family.
The disconnect: underlying issue
Many approaches to restoring Christ to Christmas take an approach focused on externals: saying certain things (Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays), displaying certain things (nativity scenes in public spaces) or doing certain things (going to a Christmas eve candlelight service). But none of those get at the root of the issue.
Christmas is seen by many as simply a year end celebration with no particular meaning beyond getting together with family and friends and exchanging gifts. According to Pew Research, the overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas (90+%) but less than half do so with any reference to or consideration of religion.
And while many people hang Christmas decorations, few are confident they could tell the Christmas story. According to LifeWay Research, a lot of us know parts of the story but we’re not confident we could accurately tell the story of the birth of Jesus as chronicled in the Bible.
People don’t know what God has revealed about the birth of Jesus so why would they bother to bow at his manger throne? Why worship an infant King unless you knew who He really was?
God sent His only Son in the fullness of time to reveal His glory and save His people from the power and curse of sin. Christmas is about the coming of God to redeem for Himself a people. Christmas is about the greatest gift ever given, wrapped in human flesh and lying in a manger.
Christmas is not primarily a break from work and school or a reason to have a white elephant gift exchange with your co-workers. Christmas is not about lights and trees and parties and cards. Christmas is about Jesus. He really is the reason for the season and the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of Christmas (regardless of what Dickens’ Christmas Carol might lead you to believe).
Here is how our lives set the tone for our conversations. This time of the year is often stressful and chaotic because of the added pressures to do and buy all the things. But for us Christ-followers, we know the joys of the Season are ultimately received, in what God has given us freely in Christ.
As we go about this month, let’s offer a distinct way of celebrating — one that is not frantic or consumption-driven, but is ultimately a reflection of the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus:
- Let the light of our decorations, shining against the darkness, reflect the Light of the World.
- Let the food we make, share and eat, be tangible celebrations of the Bread of Life.
- Let the gatherings and events we plan and attend, embody the welcome of Christ.
- Let the gifts we find, wrap and give to others, be our response to receiving God’s love, freely and graciously lavished on us.
So as you find yourself at holiday work parties, or neighborhood get-togethers, or sitting in uncomfortable chairs waiting for a school performance— enter those conversations intentionally, as Christ’s re-presentation right in that very moment. One of the best ways to start these conversations is by simply asking good questions. Start here and see where they lead!
- Love, joy, peace, hope and light are all words we associate with Christmas. What do those words mean to you when you think of Christmas?
- What is the Christmas Spirit and how do you see it as distinct from the spirit of the world?
- Who is your favorite character in the nativity scene? Who do you wish you could know more about?
- What were your most treasured Christmas traditions growing up? Where do they come from, and how do you want to incorporate them today?
Keep the conversation going: Hope
Christmas is a time for “good cheer” and merriment and celebration. Yet, many also experience stress, anxiety, depression or increased depression during the holidays. What might it look like for us to be aware and available to those who are lonely, weary or struggling when the rest of the world is obsessed with creating a picture-perfect holiday?
The Hope of Christmas is not in the right gifts, or harmonious family relationships, or full social calendars or meticulously decorated homes. Those things are all nice, but we have Hope because the promise of Immanuel, God with us, is actually true. Who in your life needs the reality of Isaiah 9:6-7 right now? How might you offer it to them in an authentic relationship? Sometimes what people most need from us is not another present— but our presence.
There are likely people in your regular social circles who are struggling at Christmas. Consider asking “This season is associated with gold and red and green. But Christmas can also be really blue. Is there something in your life that makes the season of Christmas hard for you?” They may just be waiting for someone to notice and care.
Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash