As we begin celebrating Christmas, we are tempted to think that Christmas happens under the tree or around the table. And although family gatherings and gift-giving are undoubtedly essential elements of the holidays, the truth is that Christmas happens in the heart.
Christmas Behavior Modification
So many of our spiritual practices can become meaningless habits. We learn to modify our behavior to fit the season. We go through the motions like decorating the tree, setting up the nativity scene, and baking cookies in a holiday stupor. Then, as we’re packing it all away in January, we wonder where the holidays went and why it all seemed so hollow this year.
Some of the blame lies in the fact that we do not allow our hearts to be touched and transformed as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. We are too busy to pause, contemplate, and meditate on one of the most remarkable events in human history. Our busyness robs us of celebrating Christmas in our hearts because our hands and feet are so busy. We are preoccupied with activities rather than attitude.
Over-the-top holiday activities present another danger: stress. We risk health, emotional, financial, and relational issues when we drastically change our behavior patterns to meet the season’s demands. We cheat ourselves in two ways when we ramp up our schedules, hoping to find Christmas magic. We amplify our anxiety, and we miss out on the true experience of “peace on earth.”
Jesus did not come to modify our behavior. He came to transform our hearts. No amount of holiday party-going, gift-giving, or tree-trimming will ever change our hearts. Only the Savior can do that. So, this year, we all have a choice. We can open our calendars to every holiday function that comes along or open our hearts to the only thing that really matters.
This is more difficult than it may seem. It requires decelerating life, thinning out our calendar of events, and stopping to smell the Christmas cookies. Try canceling two high-energy activities and replacing them with one laid-back, Jesus-oriented endeavor. If you make and keep this commitment, you’ll be pleased with how the emphasis of the holiday shifts to something much more transformational.
A Few Suggestions
It may be time to skip a couple of those parties this year. Instead, spend the time gathered around the fireplace reading Luke chapter 2. Or, instead of eating all those Christmas cookies yourself, box up a few and take them to an elderly neighbor. Ask your children if they would be willing to receive one less present this year. Then, they could each purchase a gift for a child who otherwise may get nothing for Christmas. Find a spiritually meaningful short story and read it together as a family.
I grew up in a family that gathered every night for family devotions. My dad would read a passage from the Bible and read a short meditation about those verses. This was such a meaningful time, and it was even more special during the Christmas season. This sacred time allowed us to slow down our minds and bodies before bed. During December, Dad would tell us the stories of Christmas. It anchored us to its true meaning and softened our hearts.
Observing Christmas should change our hearts for the better. Celebrating Jesus’ birth should heal our emotional wounds. A full holiday to-do list does not guarantee a full heart. Christmas is more than a holiday…it’s a holy day! And holy days, like Christmas, happen in the heart.