Monday, November 18, 2013

One Family's Journey in Celebrating Christmas

How should a Christian family celebrate Christmas? Or should they? In our day and age those have come to be million-dollar questions :-) Our journey has been a long one, from which we have learned much, and I would like to share it with you :-)

My husband grew up Amish, they really didn't celebrate Christmas, just took a day off work and ate a big dinner :-) I was raised a Christian home, but it was not always so. My parents were both saved when I was a young child, my mother earlier on, my dad when I was about 10. 

By the time I was 12, our Christmas celebration had become Christ-centered :-) We would talk about how the components of a typical American Christmas represented Christ. An evergreen tree for the everlasting life He gave us, white lights for the stars in the sky when He was born, gifts for others to represent the gifts given by the Magi. It was beautiful, but we were still doing just what everyone else was.

christmas gifts
When I was in my teens, we briefly considered not celebrating Christmas at all, drawn by the claim that December 25th is actually a pagan holiday, and not the date of His birth. After much prayer, we concluded that it didn't matter when we celebrated, but it would be wrong to NOT celebrate the greatest moment in the history of the world. We don't know when He was born, so why not celebrate it in December? It's just as good as July :-) What matters is not when, but what and how we celebrate.

We hit a new obstacle when we found this passage in Jeremiah 10:2-3:
"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."
Whoa! That sure sounded like the modern American Christmas tree, didn't it? We ditched ours. Instead, we decorated a window with lights, and set up a table under it with a nativity scene, cross, and a treasure chest and two bottles to represent gold, francincense and myrrh. Over the years, we have gotten our hands on the real stuff, and set that out every year with the rest of the display. Later, reading the passage above in context, we found that it is speaking of the construction of a wooden idol, carved ("the work of the hands of the workman") and decorated, not a Christmas tree.

Evergreens have been a symbol of Christ ever since a missionary to Germania challenged their god Thor by chopping down the "thunder oak". They expected him to drop dead, but when the tree fell instead, he used it to show that their god was not real, and then told them of the sacrifice Christ had made for them. When the oak fell the only tree left standing around it was a small fir. Our missionary pointed it out to them as a symbol of Christ, ever-living, and taking the place of Thor and his "thunder oak". 

The first to bring a fir tree inside and decorate it for Christmas was actually Martin Luther. He was so struck by the picture of a fir in the woods, with the stars shining behind it, that he brought one inside and loaded it with candles, as a reminder of the light and life brought to a dark and deadened world by the coming of Christ. Wow! Makes me want to have a Christmas tree again :-)

Jesse Tree
Since we've had our own children, we have started using an advent calendar. Not those junky cardboard things with chocolate Santas every day, but a homemade hanging pocket calendar. We stretch the Christmas story out over the whole month, reading a bit each day, and having activities to go along with each passage. We used to start with the prophesies, and then work our way through to His coming :-) 

The last two years we've used Ann Voskamp's version of the Jesse_Tree as a guideline. We had a Jesse Tree ornament swap last year with several other families. We read about someone in the story of Christ, then hang the matching ornament in the window. We start at the bottom, with Adam, working our way through Noah, Rahab, Ruth, Jesse, David, and all the others, and finishing with the crowning glory of His-story, the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. It's a beautiful walk through the Bible, and the children get to see how God used everyone in it to bring about His plan for us :-) Even the littlest ones learn so much!  

No matter how or when you celebrate Christmas, Celebrate! Make it a time to glorify Christ! He is the greatest thing that ever happened to this world, dare we ignore His coming? Dare we let the world take over the most precious of holy-days? Make memories, and make them all about Him, all about what He has done, all about the Gift we didn't deserve.

Finally, a Christmas blessing we received ten years ago as newlyweds:

May yours be the joy of the angels,
proclaiming that first Christmas day.
May yours be the faith of the wise men,
as they journeyed to where Jesus lay.
May yours be the awe of the shepherds,
as they followed a voice from above.
May yours be the blessing of Christmas,
and always the gift of His love!
Only by His merciful grace. 

-Marion Yoder

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