How Can We Keep Jesus at the Center of Christmas?
We're all busy this time of year it seems, and the closer we get to the 25th, the busier things get. But our whole reason for celebrating is the birth of the Christ! That simple and crucial fact can be so easy for us to forget amidst the business. Below are some easy tips to help you and your family keep Jesus at the center of the Christmas season this year.
The shopping malls are full of Christmas regalia, fit for the coming of a King. Christmas songs play on the pop radio stations, and some of them even use Jesus’ name in the lyrics. In Western culture, Christmas is many people’s favorite time of the year.
Then why is it so easy to forget that we’re really celebrating Jesus’ birth? How can Christians keep our focus on Christ through all the holiday fun?
Retelling the Story
In many cultures worldwide, storytelling is still a favorite family activity. This was certainly true for the Israelites as they constantly recounted the stories of God’s intervention. They found lots of ways to retell the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the 10 Commandments, and Esther’s role in saving the Jews from genocide.
In our culture, we sometimes think we need to add something new to validate a retelling of the story. Some new bit of historical insight or scriptural application must be added to bring depth and meaning to a story we’ve heard countless times. But there is a lot of value in simply sharing the story again and again, as children instinctively want to do.
Churches in Western culture often retell the story with a kids’ pageant or a re-enactment, sometimes even with live animals. These efforts bring visceral life to the ancient story. But what can you do at home to retell the story, short of hiring a donkey?
Invest in a Non-Fragile Nativity Set
Buy or make at home a nativity set that kids can play with. In my family, we have a traditional-looking set that didn’t cost much. We let the kids play with the figures gently, and they make up all sorts of interesting details. My 4-year-old daughter likes to line up all the figures and make them take turns visiting Jesus. I seriously doubt if the original experience was that orderly. But she is thinking about the Christ child, and that’s what matters!
Include Reading the Story in Your Christmas Tradition
An easy way to retell the story is to simply read it from one of the gospels. You can change up which translation or which gospel you read from each year, to keep it interesting. Or pick a children’s Bible that summarizes the stories. The most direct Bible readings are found here:
- Matthew 2 covers the wise men visiting Jesus and the Holy Family fleeing Herod.
- Luke 2:1-40 covers Jesus’ birth, the shepherds’ visit, and Jesus’ presentation at the temple.
Like many families, my parents established a Christmas-morning routine. It included opening stockings, eating a special breakfast and reading the Christmas story, all before we exchanged gifts among the family. My father always did the reading, and now that he’s gone, my husband or brother read the story to carry on the tradition.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/manaemedia
Start a Family Advent Wreath
Many churches have an advent wreath, with four candles representing aspects of the Christmas story or meaning, and a Christ candle in the middle to light on Christmas day. Try participating at home by lighting your own candles to represent the four weeks leading up to Christmas. You can buy a special wreath with four candle holders, but any sort of arrangement will do.
Ideas for observing advent at home:
- Pick one meal per week to light the candle(s) and discuss the theme of the week. Light one candle the first week, then add a candle each week so that by the fourth week, all the candles are lit.
- Choose what your themes will be—many people choose “hope, peace, love, and joy.”
- Keep in mind that advent, which means “coming,” is not only about Jesus’ birth but also about his second coming, when he’ll return to set all things right forever.
- Advent guides and ideas abound. You can follow a structure provided by someone else, or just briefly discuss the ideas as a family.
Learn more about advent in this helpful article.
Show Jesus-Style Hospitality
Jesus’ birth was notoriously humble—tucked away with the animals in a strangers’ home. We often fault the innkeepers for having a full house, and perhaps if Joseph had been wealthy, nicer accommodations would have become available to them.
But the innkeepers were at peak season because many people were traveling to Bethlehem to fulfill their census duties, just as Joseph and Mary needed to do. Perhaps the innkeeper who welcomed the Holy Family did the best he could. That’s all any of us could do.
When he grew up and became a rabbi, Jesus taught his followers to extend hospitality where it is least expected:
“Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” (Luke 14:12-14).
Is there a neighbor who may not have someone to celebrate with? Is there a family having trouble paying the bills? Is there someone unexpected you could invite to your holiday?
We often have many obligations during Christmas—traveling to visit extended family, hosting holiday celebrations, buying gifts, etc. But keep your eyes open for someone whom you can help, not because it’s expected but in memory of the Holy Family who needed hospitality the night Jesus was born.
Practice Creative Meditation
On your own, or with others, try some unconventional, or at least special, methods of focusing on Jesus’ coming. You may feel like, “how can I add one more thing to the busiest time of year?” But if the goal is to focus on Christ, then it’s worth turning our attention to him, even at the cost of something else.
- Take a cold-weather walk and think about how it would’ve felt for Mary and Joseph to travel by foot/donkey from one city to another when Mary was nine months pregnant, and so much was uncertain in their lives.
- Journal or discuss the ways that our world is different because of Christ’s first coming.
- Make a list of ways that our world will be different when he comes again!
- Sing all the verses of some Christmas carols and look up any meanings you don’t understand.
Choose to spend 30 minutes or so on deliberately thinking about Christ’s coming during this busy time. This is a way you can give him a small, quiet birthday present.
I wish you a very joyful Christmas as we celebrate our wonderful Jesus!
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/MKucova
Allie Boman is a wife, mom, follower of Jesus and freelance writer in the Chicago area. She served for fifteen years with Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and studied classical piano in college. She loves to cook ethnic food and explore new places with her family. Her personal blog is QuickReads.blog. She’d love to connect with you!