Some would say there's a battle for Christmas. I'd agree. Yep. I feel it every year. And it is our job as Christians, to take Christmas back. Well it is kind of our thing.
But I'm not talking battles over coffee cup designs or Christmas trees in public squares. Our battle does not lie with our neighbors or culture at large; it lies within the multitude of small decisions we make during the holiday season. Decisions that can help us recalibrate our hearts toward hope, joy, peace and love, or decisions that can distract us. I'm talking taking control over our personal practices and living from hearts soaked in the miracle that God so loved the world he sent a baby.
In my case, as most matters of the heart, this battle is self-inflicted. In the middle of the Christmas merrymaking, (you know the spending, eating, decorating, traveling, wrapping and cooking), is a story that needs to be told and retold. I am the one to tell it, both to myself and to those around me. Yet I allow all of the Christmas orchestrating to get in the way.
We have free will. We can decide that the schedule must be limited, the spending paired down, the family dynamics eased with grace extended. We can say, "no thank you" to what the world, or even our own expectations, are convincing us Christmas is about, if it prevents us from remembering the story. We can take back this holiday from our own self-induced crazy-making by simplifying all areas in order to focus in on the message Emmanuel, God with us. Retailers are doing their jobs this time of year; their purpose is to sell us stuff. We as worshipers are meant to do our job of remembering with gratitude that God pursued us by stepping onto earth. The battle begins and continues with small decisions around my time, talent and treasure.
Last year I did a little Christmas experiment. I asked myself what the season would look like if I concentrated on the themes of Advent and Christmastide within the context of my actual life. Recognizing I'm not the first Christ-follower to long for a meaningful holiday, I used the Church's liturgical calendar as my guide. What if I looked for hope during the first week of Advent? Would I enjoy the season a little more? Would I find God in the midst of the ordinary responsibilities and additional stress of the holidays? What about Love, Peace and Joy? What if I extended my heart celebration into more than just the 25th and celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas?
In this experiment I discovered I need this annual marker, this dependable love message every year. There is a reason we as Christians celebrate this milestone in history; our hearts need to remember. No matter my circumstances I yearn for the good news that arrived over two thousand years ago. It is hard-wired in me to long for the Messiah. I can try to fill this yearning with all the distractions of Christmas busy, or I can remember though those Christmas extras can be fun, the good news is found in the Christ child.
Responding to a "Happy Holidays" with a "Merry Christmas" through clenched teeth is not our best greeting to the world. It certainly won't convey the Prince of Peace has arrived. Rather, sitting in the story of the first Christmas so our hearts are recalibrated to focus in on the themes of the season, hope, love, joy and peace, will offer our holiday stress, and even grief, some perspective. And with this spirit, we, the Church, can truly offer a season's greeting that reflects the miracle we believe in. We can stand in the wonder, no matter how busy our Christmas making is or how difficult a season it might be. This taking back of our own focus will certainly impact our countenance and allow us to spread some true Christmas cheer to a hurting and weary world. Taking back Christmas has everything to do with my focus.
Alexandra Kuykendall is the Christmas orchestrator for her family of six. She is an author and cohost of The Open Door Sisterhood Podcast. Her latest book, Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season, can be found in all the usual book buying places.