It’s now November, and families and churches are beginning to plan the holidays, if they haven’t done so already. There’s a lot to think about. Are we serving traditional food or doing something different? Are last year’s decorations good enough or do we need something more? Are we traveling (to grandma’s house, of course) or staying home? Do we still send out greeting cards? What is our gift budget and who are we buying gifts for? What do we need to do to the house before people show up? What have we forgotten?
It can be crazy, I know. Trust me, for a pastor with a busy church, nine children, and nine grandchildren, I have to do a lot of planning and thinking. But I do want to ask you to make one more decision.
Are your holidays going to be secular or spiritual?
We think of Thanksgiving and especially Christmas as sacred and spiritual holidays, but often they’re not. It’s not just Christians that celebrate these holidays. They are ingrained in American traditions, and even atheists celebrate them—they just don’t include God. We don’t want that to happen to us! So how can we keep the focus on the sacred when it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the secular?
Before you read further, let me say that you won’t find me ranting against the secular. I like turkey, dressing, pecan pie, and a family football game—none of which are especially spiritual. I like Santa Clause, gift-giving, tamales, Christmas lights, and Christmas movies—even if they don’t specifically point to Jesus. I’m not writing to rant against those things. Traditions can be good and fun, even if they’re not particularly spiritual.
So instead of a rant, I want to offer some suggestions on how to keep your family’s focus on the spiritual during this holiday season. And if you have some unbelievers in your family, these suggestions can at least point them to Jesus:
On Thanksgiving, plan to focus on God in your talk with your family. And, by all means, keep it brief if the food is already on the table. Don’t just talk about, “I’m thankful for . . . .” which is passive and ignores the One who gave us all good things. Make it more God-directed, “I thank God for . . . . .”
Find a way to share part of what God has given you. You can do so specifically with a family you know, or you can give to a food bank or ministry. Make sure that your whole family knows and can participate in it—a family project!
Include the children or grandchildren in whatever sharing and helping that you do. They learn quickly on special days that “it’s all about me” or “it’s not all about me.” You want at least part of their focus to be on helping others.
On Christmas, protect yourself (and your budget) from the stress that comes from overbuying gifts. “It’s the thought that counts” is true if the thought is sincere and meaningful. In our family we draw names so no one is expected to buy gifts for everyone. That would bankrupt us! I know of one person with very little money who spends the entire month writing very personal and thoughtful letters to each family member in lieu of a gift. And the letters are deeply appreciated!
Participate in worship services each Sunday. Don’t let the stress and activity of the holidays keep you from worship. If you’re traveling, visit a church. God often talks even more directly to us in unfamiliar surroundings.
Participate in a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Service with your family.
Help serve a meal in a shelter or at an Angel Tree Party.
Have a short service in your home on Christmas morning. Read Luke 2:1-7, sing a song, and pray before you open gifts.
Give a gift to Jesus. It can be to missions . . . to a special project in your church . . . to a ministry that you love . . . or to strangers.
There are thousands of other ways you can do it, but it takes planning to make sure that the secular doesn’t drown out the spiritual. Enjoy the traditions but focus on God and Jesus. When you do, the holidays will make much more of a personal and family impact!