This Christmas, adjust your focus and spark your imagination as you talk about Jesus’ birth.
The fire flickered, illuminating the stuffed stockings that hung on the mantel, the wrapped presents nestled under the tree, and the half-eaten cookies resting on a red and green plate. Soft Christmas carols played in the background, washed out by my two small children jumping and squealing in excitement from their bedroom around the corner.
My anticipation for a precious Christmas morning rose with their energy and enthusiasm. It was the first time my three-year-old understood that Santa had visited our house. He could talk of little else over the last few weeks and, for months, had been certain that Santa would bring him a backhoe. I could not wait to see the smile on his face when he discovered the built-to-scale toy construction vehicle of his dreams. With our phones in hand, ready to record this joyous Christmas moment, my husband and I shouted for the boys to come into the living room.
But our oldest was unimpressed with the gift that Santa set under our tree. “This isn’t what I asked for,” he said. We showed him how each lever worked, and how he could push the vehicle, bulldoze, and excavate. “It’s amazing,” we encouraged. He was less than impressed and tried to convince his little brother to trade presents. What a magical morning!
To this day, I don’t know what my son believed Santa would deliver. Had he played with a specific toy in his classroom or on a playdate? Did he expect a humongous, driveable backhoe to be parked in our front yard? We will never know. What I do know is that Santa will receive pictures of my son’s wish list this year.
Of course, we do not celebrate Christmas because of Santa. And the holiday is special even if no gifts are exchanged. But this memorable morning reminded me how often we plan out magical Christmas experiences, hoping to create memories for ourselves that match those in a Hallmark movie.
We want a white Christmas, a peaceful, joy-filled day with no tantrums and no drama. We prepare a perfect meal and hope to receive the prized item at the top of our wish list. We might be really good at pretending those things don’t matter, yet our minds are often preoccupied.
For weeks we anticipate our children’s reaction to presents, our in-laws’ enjoyment of the meal, and hosting the perfect holiday party. Or, maybe we’re too distracted by the negative aspects of this special season. We’re bothered by the pull of consumerism or disappointed by who will–or will not–join us for Christmas dinner. We’re overwhelmed by our busy calendar and our growing to-do lists. We’re distracted with our packing lists and travel plans. We want to make everyone happy, but we expect that we will unintentionally frustrate the people we love best.
If we’re not careful, our crafty imaginations of a flawless Christmas Day will rob us of the joy and wonder this season offers. We’ll miss the joy found, not in presents or IG-worthy experiences, but in the arrival of Jesus. We’ll overlook the wonder found in the magic of the Christmas story, the upside-down, larger-than-life miracle of a Savior.
As I consider the Christmas story, I realize that unmet expectations are a central theme. Mary may not have established a birth plan with her midwife, but surely she never anticipated giving birth in a stable. The shepherds would never have imagined they would be the first to know about the Messiah’s arrival. And no one in history would have written a script that included a quiet, unassuming advent of the King of Kings.
So we wrap gifts, plan menus, decorate our homes, and host our family and friends. But we shift our perspective and temper our expectations so that we have room to worship. We join Mary and the shepherds, singing praises even though nothing is how we expected it.
To help you adjust your focus, spark your imagination, and talk about Jesus often, here are three short devotionals for this Christmas season.
Callie Clayton writes to encourage others (and remind herself) that it’s possible to experience God right where you are. She enjoys teaching the Bible to teenagers, having good conversation over meals she didn’t cook, and baking all the chocolate desserts. Embracing her role as a boy-mom to three little ones, she and her husband are worn out, but loving the adventure of parenthood.