Many of us try to cultivate special traditions that bring deep meaning to the celebration of Christmas. Others just go with the flow of the holidays trying not to capsize under the rush. Some folks just give up on what seems to be so much effort that just creates expectations, stress and credit card debt. There is another alternative. We can just spend time with the baby.
When a new baby arrives, family life changes gears. A form of slow motion, life outside of time, takes over just for a little while. Sleep schedules shift into nap times. Meals morph into what fits between nursing, bottles, burps and diapers. Life with a newborn reminds us what is essential. This Christmas baby Jesus can give us a similar reminder.
Expectancy rather than Expectation
During Advent, let yourself simply be expectant this year. Your excitement can be about getting to know the baby and looking forward to just spending time holding Him close. If you choose to decorate in His honor, do what brings your household true delight. (Not because “we always do it”, or because “neighbors will be impressed”) If the decorating is a project in which perfection poisons the JOY with stress and irritation, then skip it. When there’s a new baby in the house, home décor is last on the priority list. Let the Bethlehem stable be your model. All you need is a star and a manger.
Don’t wear yourself out before His birthday even arrives. Advent isn’t a countdown to a deadline. It’s a time to prepare gently and lovingly to welcome the preciousness of childhood all over again in the person of the Holy Child. The Church gives us a season to celebrate Christmas that spans several weeks from December 25 through January 11. Baby Jesus didn’t get His gifts until long after Christmas night. Savor the whole season of Christmas in bits and bites, not a huge gluttonus gulp all in one day. Tiny babies experience life in moments of securely swaddled delight between naps and nursing. Find ways to spread out your celebration into moments of shared and gentle JOY. Allow your Christmas to begin, not end, on Christmas Day.
Wrap up Prayers and Memories
Let each task you do be inspired by the tenderness you’ve allowed yourself to feel for Baby Jesus. Wrap each of your gifts with something shiny and beautiful: sincere prayer for the person receiving it. For the person who is impossible to please, while you wrap their gift, pray for patience (theirs and yours). For those who are sad or lonely, pray that Jesus will comfort their hearts. For someone abrasive or argumentative, pray for peace in their soul. And for those who seem far from God, you can pray that the Holy Spirit will be the hound of heaven who is the puppy in a gift box who climbs out, follows them, pins them down and smothers their face with blessed sloppy kisses this year. Adorn each present with a supernatural bow, tied with ribbon that links them, God and you together. Who knows? This contemplative gift wrap, far more than the gift, might be a Christmas game changer for the curmudgeons in your life.
Also, perhaps it’s time to enjoy Christmas the way Jesus would if he were a toddler in your home. Toddlers often enjoy the wrappings as much as the gift. Recycling is all the rage. Recycle your wrappings into smiles and giggles. Plan a gift wrap “fight” after the gifts are opened. Everyone can furtively hoard their stash of paper to shape like indoor snowballs with which to pelt each other. Armed with boxes as impromptu shields, the joy of the gift giving can erupt into a family memory that lingers far beyond the stuff that, however thoughtfully given, will eventually be worn out, out grown or forgotten. The smiles and laughter are what a young Jesus would treasure the most anyway.
Choose Childlike Love and Peace
If there are children in your home or perhaps coming to visit, your manger scene can become a hands-on Christmas experience. Allow your little ones to imagine with it personally. Recline on the floor and enter into their pretend world with them. Baby Jesus loves visitors. All the action heroes and princesses can come and bow along with the shepherds before the baby King. The stable has room for far more animals than donkeys, cows and sheep. Lions and puppies, wolves and chickens, snakes and kittens can all come to the stable. For children and adults, imagination can be the doorway to prayer. Your nativity scene can become a reflection on the peaceable kingdom, where all can be brothers, sisters and friends.
Mary knew that the stable was the perfect birth place for Jesus because it was chosen by God. It was simple, quiet, and set apart from crowds and bustle of central Bethlehem. It took some searching for Joseph to realize where His family needed to be, but once he found it, all future generations have been blessed by what happened there. It was holy place because of the baby who made it His first home. Our hearts and homes can also be a perfect place for the Prince of Peace to come to stay. It may takes some searching for us find the space to share Christmas that makes time to be simple, quiet and set apart. The rewards of building a habit of holding baby Jesus close to our heart throughout Advent and Christmas will never be snap chatted, or “liked” on Facebook, but your future generations may be richly blessed!
Give yourself the gift of low expectations this year. Stock up on expectancy and joy instead. When stress knocks at your door, just say, “Shhhhh, you can’t come in right now. The baby just arrived and mustn’t be disturbed.” He’s the Prince of Peace and right now He is resting with us.
(This and my other Advent and Christmas blog posts are inspired by my book: Little Lamb Finds Christmas. The beautiful illustrations you see were created by Missouri artist, Kim Wilson. Enjoy!)