I grew up in a fairly large extended family. My grandparents had five children and twenty grandchildren. Christmas was always a fun celebration with lots of aunts, uncles, cousins, and of course, my grandparents. Laughter, excitement and joy filled the day and spilled over into the entire week. We exchanged Christmas gifts, ate good food, and gathered around the piano for sing-alongs. As my grandparents aged, one of the three children in the area would host Christmas. The house had changed, but the laughter and fun did not.
Then one year my grandmother died followed the next year by my grandfather. I distinctly remember the first year the families all decided to have their own Christmas celebrations. I sat at our dining room table with my parents and siblings, who I saw everyday, and thought, “This is it?” That year was a disappointing let down. And it seems many Christmases after that have been disappointing. In those early years I often thought if I could go to sleep the day before Thanksgiving and wake up New Year’s Day, I would avoid a lot of heartache.
Since those early years of disappointment, I have been challenged to change my focus at this time of year. I know Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birth and the salvation He brings because of His life on earth. It has taken time to refocus enough to avoid the disappointment I always seem to experience. In recent years, Christmas has been a more joyous celebration that goes far beyond what I give or receive. Here are four ways of making the season more meaningful that I have found helpful.
Read An Advent Devotional
I’m working my way through an advent devotional. The short passages often verbalize an aspect of Jesus’ life or God’s love that I had not thought of before. As I spend time meditating on the truths presented I gain greater appreciation for how much God loves me. And this leads to seeing Christmas in a new light.
Expect Christmas As It Is Rather Than As I Wish Would Be
When I live in the expectation that every Christmas will be like my childhood Christmases, I set myself up for disappointment. My grandparents are no longer here. My cousins have families of their own to celebrate with and in several cases are even grandparents themselves! When I anticipate the new ways of celebrating with in-laws, adult nephews, and a quiet house, I live much closer to the reality I will experience and my disappointment begins to fade.
A large portion of the world lives with much greater concerns than whether they have an exciting Christmas. Some of those concerns are very basic: where their next meal will come from and where they will find clean drinking water. Other concerns are immediately life changing or even life-threatening: how to avoid being raped or sold into slavery, where to flee or how to live in the ongoing conflict that has completely disrupted their lives. Still other concerns involve finding a job that will support the family, going through a foreclosure, rebuilding after a devastating natural disaster, or dealing with a terminal illness. Not only are none of those my concerns, I’ve never even come close to living through any of them. As I celebrate the birth of the world’s Savior –- my Savior –- it helps to remember His birth is not the only thing I’m thankful for during this season.
No Christmas Gift Will Ever Match The Gift I Have Already Received
The gulf between who God is and who I am in and of myself is great. So great, in fact, that I have absolutely no hope of bridging the chasm by myself. God, solely in His love, mercy and grace, has given me a gift that leads to fulfillment in this life and eternity with Him in the next life. There is nothing any human can give me that ever comes close to matching that gift. As I remember this truth, it helps me view Christmas with the proper perspective.
Christmas was never meant to be about how I feel, how much fun I have, the excitement I experience or even the gifts I receive. Those things are not bad in and of themselves, but when I allow them to take the place of the real gift, I inevitably set myself up for disappointment. When I focus on the real reason we celebrate Christmas, my disappointment is minimized and my heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude, appreciation, and a desire to worship God, who has given me life beyond anything I could have imagined.
As you look toward Christmas, what is your attitude? Are you filled with anticipation and excitement? Or do you experience dread and disappointment? Or maybe you experience something completely different. Whatever you experience, I pray your sense of God’s presence with you increases. May you experience His love in a new way this Christmas season.