Christmas—Gifts—Family, Part One
Christmas: it comes with gifts of all shapes and sizes and prices. It has its own genre of music, which somehow includes “Silent Night” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” You are legitimately authorized to bring trees and other items that shed into your home. There are a disproportionate number of parties. Acceptable fashion runs the gamut from tasteful to terrible, with terrible having its own cottage industry.
In this season of plenty, hearts are often turned to those less fortunate, and much good is spread.
For others, the little baby who started this entire enterprise is foremost in our minds.
As followers of Jesus, we sometimes lament how Christmas has morphed into any number of ideas, all of which seem to leave Jesus out. Phrases like “Keep Christ is Christmas” and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” hit a sweet spot in our psyche.
Beyond the slogans, there is a deep ache in our hearts; it is an ache for our family and loved ones who do not yet accept this child in the manger as Lord. That ache is magnified during the Christmas season, when we find ourselves in increased contact with our families, and at times in their physical presence. What do we do?
Seriously, what do we do?
Before I sketch out my thoughts about how I answer that, let me first share an observation.
My observation is that the ache in our hearts is a glimpse into the heart of God. “For God so loved…” we read. Indeed, the love of God acted in eternity long before our birth. The love of God pushed past our rebellion to reach us in as we marched towards death.
God offers his love, over and over, in the face of rejection.
God’s heart beats for you, for me, for our families. He desires none should perish.
The ache in your heart, and in mine, is just a smidgen of the ache in God’s heart. Our longing is what happens when we love God and neighbor. In many ways, be encouraged your heart aches.
Imagine if it didn’t. Please don’t rush by that sentence. Imagine if you heart did not ache.
Give thanks that it does—your heart aches because God lives in you.
In Part Two, I will share some thoughts about how you might engage with family and friends. However, before you get to engaging those folks, I want to encourage you to engage God: through prayer, reflection, and His Word.
This probably sounds like standard religious advice: inviting you to pray before you spend time with your family and friends. But can I just ask you a question? Do you think that when you or I engage someone about Jesus, that it’s merely a human endeavor? It’s not. We are stepping into a spiritual battle. If someone’s heart is touched, it is only done by the work of the Holy Spirit. We must pray.
When you pray, let me suggest you picture the person in your mind’s eye. Pray for the love of God to fill them. Pray for their life. Pray for your words. I find when I do this step, then when I later come into that person’s presence, I am much more likely to see them as a person I care about, rather than as a task to be accomplished.
Reflect about Jesus coming to earth. Let me paraphrase one ancient Christian, Peter Chrysologos, Bishop of Ravenna, c. 400-450. “May you find this Christmas the one who was wrapped in swaddling clothes, the one we have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars. May you gaze in deep wonder at what we see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, humankind in God, God in human flesh, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body.”
Or consider Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, c. 354-430
“God so loved us that for our sakes he,
through whom time was made, was made in time;
older by eternity than the world herself,
he became younger in age than many of his servants in the world;
God, who made man, was made man;
he was given existence by a mother
whom he brought into existence;
he was carried in hands which he formed;
he was nursed at breasts which he filled;
he cried like a baby in the manger in speechless infancy –
without which human eloquence is speechless.”
You might wonder, “Where can I find these types of thoughts?” Great question. One answer—read the words of our hymns! They are stunning.
Read His Word
Read the narrative of his birth in Luke or Matthew. Journal about these parts of Scripture. Sit and wonder about this idea of a long-awaited savior coming as a child.
Why do all this before you speak with your family and friends? To draw you closer to Jesus.
Earlier I mentioned that any effort to reach the lost is not a mere human one. You are embarking on a spiritual quest. Moses’ face glowed after he spent time with God. May ours glow as well.