Ever since I can remember, Christmas has been my favorite.
There’s nothing quite as cozy as cuddling up with my favorite blanket, feeling cool, brisk air fill up the house, smelling the fresh pine from a Christmas tree, and watching a good movie with people I love. This is my favorite Christmas tradition.
This has become my favorite time of year, because it was my mom’s favorite. She would take such pride in saving up her money to finally buy the perfectly color coordinated ornaments that would make her tree look like it belonged in a hotel lobby or at the center of a shopping mall.
There was always something about Christmas that brought so much joy to our family. Despite the pain and difficulty of the rest of the year, Christmas always ushered in a season of joy.
I have the best memories during this time of year. But now that my mom is gone, this has become the hardest time of year for me.
Instead of overwhelming joy, Christmas now brings the pangs of what is no longer. As much as I try to reenact the traditions of my childhood in order to stir my heart up to excitement, I’m always left with the longing for what was.
I’ve been looking to the Christmas season to magically bring forth the feeling of joy that I once experienced. So far, it hasn’t worked.
And that’s because there isn’t actually anything magical about the Christmas season, as much as marketing and advertising would lead us to believe there is. Yes, I grew up knowing about the true meaning of Christmas. But outside of Christmas decorations and hearing the annual sermon of Jesus’ birth, I was never able to connect the excitement of Christmas to Jesus.
It’s not that my mom and the church didn’t teach me about the “reason for the season.” I just found myself far more excited to experience Christmas through decorating, music, people, and fun events.
So what I want to know is this: how can we experience the Christmas season in a Jesus-centered way?
Here are three ways we can live celebrate Christmas with Jesus at the center.
1. Live life full of joy.
I walked into Lowe’s and there in giant 7 foot sparkly red letters was the word JOY. This is what Christmas is about.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
The joy Jesus is talking about is probably not the same as what Lowe’s meant by their 7 foot tall Christmas display. But they were onto something.
It’s the whole life and work of Jesus that brings joy into our lives. And not just any kind of joy. His joy. Full joy. The irrevocable joy that can only come when we surrender our lives to Jesus.
Sometimes, this feels a bit more like a theory to ponder than something to experience and breathe and live. But that’s so opposite of what Jesus meant his words to be. To have full joy is very much a practical thing that we can live in every single day.
Joy is not supposed to live hidden within the walls of our brain and theological systems. It should ooze out of us. The very next verse Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” I don’t know about you, but that seems incredibly practical to me. And that’s where joy can be found.
Our joy should come out in the way we interact with other people. The way we drive in the holiday traffic. The way we wait patiently in line while we are so cheerfully buying Christmas gifts for the people we love.
Images of joy are all around us during this time of year. But they don’t all mean the same thing. The joy we are called to through the signs, cards, and retail stores is all based on the enchantment of the time of year. This type of joy is bought, planned, and marketed through the euphoria of American Christmas.
The type of joy Jesus is calling us into is the one that he himself has given us. Jesus Joy is far more about a call to action than a warm, fuzzy feeling.
2. Live to invite in the lost.
I have equally fallen into the thinking the Christmas is only about Christians. The thinking that this is our holiday that should be exclusive to those who know what it’s really about isn’t necessarily wrong. But it’s not entirely helpful.
From December first to twenty-fifth, we are in the season of Advent. This is definitely a term known largely within the Christian community. I actually didn’t know this term growing up. It was really foreign to me.
What advent means is “coming.” This is a time to remember the coming of Jesus into the world. More specifically, it’s a time to remember him coming into our lives. The whole purpose for Jesus coming was to seek and to save that which was lost. People. Jesus came for the redemption of people.
So during a time of year when we remember the beginning of Jesus’ mission, instead of turning inward and having our own celebrations, we should be turning outward to celebrate the advent of Jesus into the lives of more people.
Our traditions, festivities, and celebrations should not be so exclusive. This is a perfect time of year for us to seek to include those who do not yet know the reason for the season.
Instead of being upset with them for saying Happy Holidays, maybe we can include them in our Christmas celebrations. We should do our best not to be creepy about it, but this is actually the time of year when people are far more open to invites.
If you have the opportunity to invite them to your church, great! If not, maybe try and invite them over for dinner or to a family event where Jesus is at the center.
As we desire to keep Jesus at the center of our Christmas celebrations, we should be on the same mission he is – to seek and to save that which is lost.
3. Live in the expectation that God will do great things among us.
It can be difficult for us to read the story of Jesus’ birth with the same sense of wonder and awe as those who were expectantly waiting for it over the course of many generations.
God’s promise to send an anointed one who would restore all things and transform what was broken was not just a story that grandma told. It was the hope of Israel. It was the hope of humanity.
The time of Jesus’ birth was filled with great anticipation, because they knew his coming meant the fulfillment of God’s promises. It meant the enemy would be overcome and that we would for the first time know what it was like to be free. This was the moment Israel had been waiting for. They were expecting God to do big things.
The time of expecting God to do great things is not over.
This season should serve as a reminder that God is the keeper of his promises. That he is faithful. As people who want to keep Jesus at the forefront of our Christmas, we should be expectant. God is still moving among his people.
We should live expectant for God to do great things among us and through us. His work is not done yet.