Thursday, December 12, 2013

Redeeming Christmas (and recognizing the grinch inside me)


I've been a bit of Grinch.

In my effort to avoid this culture's tendency towards commercialism in a season that is supposed to be about hope, joy, anticipation and giving, I've become a miser and festivity-extinguisher.

Because, if I'm being entirely honest, the Christmas season has the ability to highlight my insufficiencies as a mother - lack of time, lack of patience, lack of joy and one of the big ones - lack of CASH!

I found myself annoyed a little more each year when the Christmas carols would begin to play on the radio.  To further amplify this attitude, we had the opportunity to get to know our family better and shared our home with my husband's younger brother, wife and kids for a little over a year.  The thing about my little brother-in-law is that he is the KING of Christmas music.  Apparently, the Christmas season begins the day after Halloween... when everyone is hung-over from a sugar over-dose.  So when I had an opportunity to smile and enjoy his child-like delight in one of the most important events on the Christian calendar of events, instead I was grouchy and informed him sternly "In MY house, Christmas doesn't start until December!"  So the Christmas DJ was dethroned for the rest of the month... at least when I was at home.

Probably my biggest argument for putting a damper on Christmas is that I hate the commercialism of it!  I hate how worked up kids get in their desire to GET more and more stuff!  Even if I had tons of money, I still don't want to engage in the chaotic, hectic shopping marathon required to appease the greediness of the green-eyed monsters (...I mean munchkins) who just want more and more!  My thought was that if Christmas has become about anticipating what amazing present you'll get this year, then I'll work in the opposite spirit and minimize the emphasis of gift-giving altogether!

At church on Sunday, one of the pastors and his wife shared about the season of Advent and how we can bring into our homes the true meaning of Christmas.  I found myself totally nodding my head in agreement with him as he mentioned how he was the "Christmas Grinch" of the family, and had to undergo a change of heart over the past couple years in order to really experience the hope and joy that the Advent season can bring.  So I really owe this post to the honesty and openness with which they shared.  (Listen here, it's the Advent message dated 12/10/13)

This Christmas, my family is in a unique situation.  We're in-between moving.  Our house is in-between being sold and having the new owners taking possession.  We have a temporary tiny little basement suite in the city we're moving back to. (I think we have about 100 square feet per person in our family!)  It's complicated....

At any rate, despite our confining, challenging environment I have hope and expectancy that this will possibly be our best family Christmas ever!

What makes things so different for me this year?

Instead of focusing on all that is wrong with Christmas, I'm determined to focus on what is RIGHT about it. The season of Advent, is about hope, expectation and promise.  I long to bring a sense of worship and wonder to my home as we anticipate a time of feasting and celebrating Jesus, incarnate, born to redeem all mankind.

However, just because I'm trying to focus on the spiritual and more meaningful message of Christmas, it doesn't mean that I should be a religious miser and put a damper on the festiveness of the season.  That's where I've been floundering - caught in the wrestle of emphasis - and wondering how we can maintain the true value of this holiday without being wrapped up in selfishness.

Then, on Sunday morning, I heard a quiet whisper in my heart regarding our family's holiday season.  Though Christmas has often seemed to be a busy, expensive season that overflows with obligation, this year it could be different.  In my heart, I felt the assurance and soul-quenching message: "God gives good gifts!"  While I've been focused on all that I've had to do and to give, God wants me to focus on His goodness and provision for me and my family.

In my effort to squelch the materialism of Christmas, I've been imparting an unhealthy attitude that causes joy and generosity to deteriorate in my children's hearts the way osteoporosis weakens bones and causes collapse.  Conversely, my kids will learn about and experience the goodness of God through my generosity and intentionality as a parent. 

As this realization blossomed in my heart, I pictured a Christmas where I delight in blessing my children.  I envisioned family-time that was filled with laughter and celebration - and realized that even the smallest of gifts could be a gesture that sparks anticipation and joy in their hearts.  And it most certainly isn't the price tag that matters, instead it's the thoughtfulness and meaning that is behind the gift.  Also, "good gifts" don't have to be defined by being items bought in a store, but can be experiences - moments of joy and words of affirmation that warm the heart.  Most of all, the gift can be found in slowing down, and enjoying a season that celebrates what really matters - relationships, both with our Savior and with our families.

Part of what this looks like for my family this year is what I'm calling the "5 Days of Christmas".  We've been incredibly blessed with an opportunity to have a mini-vacation in Montana for 5 nights and so, with some planning and intentionality, we're celebrating the idea that God gives us good gifts.  Each day, the kids get a tiny gift to open at breakfast time - and then we've planned fun activities and games we can do as a family.  All along the way, we're pointing out how God has blessed us and given us so many good gifts - like friends to go sledding with, beautiful scenery to enjoy and a family to cherish.

So far, the redemption of this season has been a success.  
Our hearts are tuned into the goodness that God has for us and the gifts He's given us as a family. 
We have so many reasons to celebrate, and we've only just begun.  With hope and expectation, as we journey together towards Christmas Day, we will enjoy and experience gratefulness... not grinchy-ness!

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