What Do You Want for Christmas?
Every year I struggle with how to make Christmas more meaningful and less commercial. I love the annual thrill of anticipating the day of Jesus’ birth and going to church to celebrate the beautiful truth of the day that changed the world. Yet, I have a hard time separating the commercial aspects from the true meaning. It’s not that I haven’t tried…
I’ve collected nativity sets and now have seven. They vary in size from an impossibly small one carved inside a little egg-shaped stone, filling an area of about one inch, to the largest set, which is a re-creation of a Jerusalem village setting. It has a potter’s shack, a shepherd’s tent surrounded by palm trees, and of course, the manger scene, complete with all the characters. One year I even set up the scene with the wise men a distance away, moving them closer every night until they were at their destination. By Christmas I’d looked at all of them so often as I passed by that their significance had waned.
I’ve also had advent wreaths to light every Sunday at dinner. One year it was simply a grapevine wreath with small candle holders in the center. The next year I added sprigs of red berries. Then there was my fire-hazard wreath when I used fresh greenery. It looked great until the needles started falling out. You can imagine how it looked by the time Christmas came. When we lit the candles we had to keep a glass of water nearby just in case. The next year I used a store-bought wreath that was only a metal ring with candle holders. Unfortunately, we’re not always home for dinner on Sunday night to light it. Needless to say, it doesn’t always get lit as planned and the lesson is lost for the day, leaving me to feel like the ghost of Christmas failure.
Another year, I decided to anonymously give gifts to a family we heard about who’d lost the father a month earlier. I knew they were struggling financially, but I didn’t know them well enough to understand their level of need. Our family opted to make them a Christmas dinner basket. We included a ham, packaged side items, some sweets, and a gift card from Santa. We drove to their neighborhood an hour after dark and waited around the corner until there were no witnesses on their street. Then we parked two houses down the road and snuck up to their front porch, placed the over-flowing basket of goodies by the door, rang their doorbell, and ran, giggling with glee all the way to the car. I smile every time I remember how good it felt.
Another time, I opted to focus on decorating with lots and lots of lights, a symbolic reminder of Christ being the light of the world. That was the year the dog stopped sleeping in the living room at night. I guess the light was too much for the old guy. By the next year, in true fashion, only half of the Christmas lights worked, so I never did that again.
Then there was the year I decided that I didn’t want a bunch of presents that I didn’t really need anyway. I told my family not to get me anything, but to buy a goat for a family in Africa. I felt good about doing it, but honestly, I was a little sad as everyone else opened their presents on Christmas morning while I sat and watched. I tried to keep visualizing the happy family surrounding their newfound source of income, smiling and patting the goat. My husband, bless him, gave me a present anyway, and I was very glad to get it. I learned that less really is more.
One year, I tried removing all the Santa decorations and anything that symbolized anything contrary to the true meaning of Christmas. That year I decorated only with things that were reflective of the natural world, things God created, not humans (for example, birds, red berries on grapevines that wound around the tree, white lights, and snowy pine cones. For me, it’s created a more serene and contemplative atmosphere. That tradition still holds.
I’ve sung in Christmas choirs and directed church Christmas plays with kids dressed in bath robes and sheets trying to hold still around the manger scene. I’ve gone caroling at a retirement village, and participated in lots of other community Christmas rituals. I’ve even gone dashing through the snow on a four-horse open sleigh to an animal preserve where I watched as they fed bales of hay to protected elk. It was fun and meaningful. The Christmas carol and sleigh ride is still one of my favorites.
With all my good intentions, Christmas still isn’t what I want it to be; an authentic longing for the birth of Christ that will carry me through the advent season, right up to the arrival of the wise men. I want to keep the significance of that joy going strong into the new year.
Then it happened. Last Sunday at church, the lesson was the anticipation of Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and extending to the anticipation of his second coming. The following is the prayer that did it. It’s from the Advent Project 2017, Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts:
Lord, with eagerness I wait for Your coming into my heart and life in greater fullness, more Christ-likeness, and with an increased awareness of the continuing presence of Your Spirit during this Advent Season.
When I heard this prayer, I realized that what was missing from my efforts to make my Christmas more about the arrival of Christ into the world was that this anticipation doesn’t end on Christmas. It continues throughout Christ’s life, anticipating the fulfillment of the scriptures.
“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.”
– John 12:46 (NLT)
After all the dazzle of Christmas fades, I‘ve usually been left in the dark. Jesus came to earth to illuminate the path that God wants us to follow. With this in mind, I know what I want for Christmas. I want something that shines, something that will serve as a daily reminder of that path of light. For me, I’ve chosen a ring—a ring with a small, bright stone.
I anticipate this gift as something beautiful to remind me of the beauty of the Lord’s love for me. The stone will remind me of the bright light that Jesus is to the world. The ring will symbolize not only Jesus on earth but also the full circle of Jesus coming from and returning to his heavenly home. My hope is to wear this ring until Easter when prophesy is fulfilled. Then I’ll take the ring off, wrap it up, and save it for next Christmas.
If you think you might consider a similar gift of anticipation, it doesn’t need to be a ring for your finger. It could be a leather bracelet with a brass rivet or a chain with a shiny attachment. Maybe you’d rather not wear your reminder. Perhaps it could be a special bookmark for your Bible. The cost is not what’s important. Whatever you choose, let it be a personal reminder of the greatest gift of all time. Let this reminder carry you through to the Easter season. Then, next Christmas, wrap it up and put it under the tree where you can see it and enjoy the anticipation of receiving the best gift you will ever receive; Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.