Simplify Christmas, celebrate Christ.
A few years ago my mother bought a lovely Christmas plaque with the above saying written on it. She has placed it over our mantle as a temporary seasonal replacement for a picture that reads, "Home -- Where Each lives for the other and all live for God." Though it has never been voiced, I feel like this spot is the focal point of our home and our family. Placing this new saying there reminds us of what Christmas is really supposed to be like, and I find it reassuring.
I will not remind everyone of the nearness of the day. No, wait, yes I will! Five days! Five days away! No, four, if you count Christmas Eve. As usual, I am in denial, but not because of the responsibilities yet to be done, but because of all the fun I haven't yet had.
Two Sides of Christmas
You are, no doubt, familiar with the difference between secular Christmas and Christian Christmas. But there are two more sides that we could note. Responsibility versus Joy.
This is us: busy with what we must do and looking wistfully at what we would like to do. We get so caught up in the needs of the season that the fun always falls to the back burner. And thus gets burned up. As the day draws near I have noticed that all too familiar feeling creeping in. As Sally from A Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving says, "I haven't even finished eating all of my Halloween candy!" In regards to Christmas, my sentiments exactly.
Growing up we had a score of fun traditions. In the evenings we would paint what is now Christmas village (read more here), or work a Christmas puzzle. At night we'd have hot cocoa or hot wassail and watch our favorite Christmas films (find reviews for some of these here).
At least once in the season, we would all hop into the vehicle and go a few miles down the road to "Christmas City," a campground that is famous (locally) for elaborately decorating their entire grounds. Also not far from our house was a tree farm. Like most families, we would take our time traversing the entire field for the perfect tree and come home with the "best".
And then there was gift shopping. Mom and Dad buy their gifts for us separately and then later we would all go together to buy gifts for each other. This usually involved a trip to Walmart, coats tossed into the buggy to cover gifts, and a desperate attempt to not look at what you know was selected for you.
But time and tide, you know, and responsibilities have come to overshadow the fun. In spite of this there is still one aspect I never fail to take the time for.
Reliving the Christmas Story
I am a history lover, as I have said before. Even though I love watching period movies I am one of their worst critics. Facts are very important and if I notice the creators have fudged on a few facts to make room for drama, I am ultimately disappointed.
Being the writing addict that I am, I long ago took to journaling while reading my Bible. I take notes of thoughts, questions, specific study notes, favorite verses or quotes from godly men and women, and anything related. Around this time of year I come back to the account of Jesus' birth and try to read it with fresh eyes. Granted, this is hard having heard the account multiple times a year, every year of my life. Familiarity can sometimes be your worst enemy.
I like to put myself in the characters places and imagine what it was like experiencing them firsthand. I hadn't given it much thought before but I really look forward to this. The song, "I am Joseph" by Steven Curtis Chapman carries the same thought (listen to it here).
This year, as I was reading and thinking about it, I began asking myself what exactly it was that I found most intriguing about Mary and Joseph's characters. I thought I would share it with you.
She was engaged to Joseph but not yet "married". Like most soon-to-be brides, she was probably making plans for their future home together, preparing for her life to change. Little did she know just how much her life would change. When she received the staggering news that she had been elected to bring the Messiah into the world, everything changed. Her reputation and integrity were suddenly questioned, she was at risk of losing Joseph, and in the eyes of the law, deserving of death.
What did Mary do with all of this facing her? If you don't know the story, you most likely would never guess.
Mary accepted the news as the ultimate blessing God could give her, and praised Him. She ran to her older cousin, Elizabeth, and the two rejoiced together. We could say that Mary tottered on the brink of indecision, struggled long hours, debated over what she would lose, before deciding that the right way to handle this was in leaving it to God. But honestly, I don't think Mary even had to think about it. Her Creator had chosen her. She was honored.
She accepted whatever God chose for her, knowing that it would be the best.
Joseph often gets passed over in light of Mary but his role is just as important. Aside from the royal inheritance Jesus received by Joseph being his official father, Joseph was Mary and Jesus' protection. Over the beginning years of Jesus' life, it was Joseph to whom the angel came in urging them to flee from Herod. But before Jesus was even born, Joseph had to make some serious choices.
For an honorable Jewish man, hearing that his wife-to-be is pregnant was beyond scandalous. Her story about the child being the Son of God was incredible as well. Jewish law demanded he have her stoned for her unfaithfulness. He obviously was hurt and confused by these unexpected events, but his devotion to the law was second to his love for Mary. He didn't want any harm to come to her, and decided on what amounted to divorce.
But what a perfect plan God had. In sending Joseph his own heavenly visitor, Joseph realized Mary's story was true after all, and it was his responsibility to care for her and her son.
If you are rating famous love stories, I think Mary and Joseph's would have to be the best. This is definitely a marriage with God at the center. How could it be any more beautiful?
Debunking Common Misconceptions
I love learning new facts about the Christmas story that debunks common misconceptions. It is one way that makes the account new to me. For example, Mary was not a grown woman as illustrations would have it but a young teen. Then there's the fact that the "stable" Jesus was born in was instead a cave. Something I just "re-learned" was that the shepherds the angels gave the announcement to were priestly shepherds, caring for sheep that would be used for Jewish religious practices. Every bit of scripture contains subtle symbolism, perfectly placed just so by our Creator. Everything has a reason.
And that is what I love most about Christmas.
Simplify Christmas, celebrate Christ.