Faith Relationships

Getting Beyond the Christmas Motions

I love Christmas! Granted, some of the hoopla gets to me, but all in all, I look forward to the season. My wife does an amazing job of decorating!  Our house truly becomes a hospitable haven at Christmas! However, it’s very easy for me to lose sight of the deeper meanings behind our celebrations. At the core of my personality, I am a persister. That means I like routine. Consistency is important to me. It’s why I’ve been at the same company for as long as I have. It’s why my character is described by many as steady and safe. All that can be good in a world that seems to rise and fall with the stock market. However, going through holiday traditions, I find myself leaning more toward the motions and less on the meaning. We ate at Uncle Harry’s last year and we will again this. It becomes so predictable we forget why we do what we do. It’s easy for any of us to lose sight of the real reason for Christmas.

Here are four ways that help me keep the real reason for Christmas at the forefront.

  1. Keep things Vertical. The other day I caught myself mesmerized by all of the holiday commercials. Wow! I’d love to have one of those! Maybe I should put that on my Christmas list? Keeping things vertical means the reason for Christmas has more to do with God and the Gospel than what’s under my tree. Jesus was born to set in motion the redemption of you and me through the cross. There is no reason for Christmas without Easter. This is not just about a precious baby in a manger. It’s about a blood-stained empty cross, a resurrected Saviour and a torn curtain in the temple that once separated the Holy of Holies from sinful man. It’s about a restored relationship with my Heavenly Father. When I read the Christmas story accounts in the Gospel, I do so as if I’ve never heard it before. I ask God to help me experience His manifest presence; to be overwhelmed by His glory.
  2. Celebrate the Horizontal.  You might not like Aunt Nadine’s sweet potato pie or Grandma’s cottage cheese and Jello salad. You might not even care for Uncle Jim’s loud personality or your cousin’s obnoxious opinions, but the ultimate reason you get together with family is to love them unconditionally with the love of Christ. Christ loving Uncle Jim through you. Christ, loving your bossy cousin Shelly through you. Instead of offering your story as a monologue to fill the time, ask about theirs. Genuinely listen with eyes and ears. Ask questions along the way. When you can, go beyond the superficial. I understand that it’s hard to go deep with someone you only see once or twice a year, but if your walk with God is healthy, even the ten minutes you have sitting next to your nerdy cousin can be more rewarding than you realize. One of Jesus’s most effective actions in his earthly ministry was when he touched people. He touched those who were unclean, broken, and desperate for hope. You might not have the love language of physical touch, but there is something to be said about hugging Aunt Nadine and thanking her for who she is. Or giving Uncle Jim a manly side hug for how he’s been a good brother to your dad. Going horizontal is to value relationships with dignity, respect, and love.
  3. Shake up the Routine. I’m not suggesting you upset the family apple-cart by dropping all family traditions. What I’m suggesting is where it is in your power to do so, offer a different way of celebrating Christmas that re-centers the entire reason for gathering more on Christ and less on self-gain. Offer to read the Christmas story before dessert at the family table. If you have some younger cousins, get them involved in an impromptu reenactment of the manger scene. If you are musically-inclined, offer to lead the family in a round of Christmas carols. If you come from a family where there is little to no reference to Christ in Christmas, humbly ask for an opportunity to share what Christ has come to mean to you.
  4. Give Generously.  I didn’t say give the biggest, most expensive or outlandish gifts. I said, give generously.  A young married couple had no extra money at Christmas. Yet, their combined family gift list was far more than they could afford.  With some creativity, they made simple gifts that didn’t break the bank and offered a personal touch to what they gave. If you are a poor warrior college student, folks understand your limits. Yet, you can give in other ways; words of affirmation written in a letter to your cousin who is struggling with depression. A candid selfie photo-print with words of appreciation to your grandparents will mean far more to them than some breakable, dust-collector for their curio-cabinet. If you are a handyman, offer your services to a widowed aunt. The point here is to be relationally available to family and friends in a way that shows Christ’s love for them. Give generously.

We live in a world filled with routine. Routine doesn’t have to be your enemy if you can keep the real message of the Gospel at the center of your Christmas celebrations. When that can’t happen, then it’s time to mix things up without watering down the real reason for Christmas. When Christ is in the motions, emotions become healthy and God-glorifying.

Happy Christmas!


David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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