The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Happy Advent everybody! How are you feeling?
The Christmas lights are twinkling, the Christmas markets are a-bustling, and the folks are queuing at Santa’s sparkly grotto. The festive season is in full flow. So, how’s it going in your house?
Do you ever feel like your children, the Christian ones, are “missing out” (again) at Christmas? Maybe not. But while my children’s friends are sitting on Santa’s lap for a photo, or getting queasy on advent chocolate before breakfast, my children are, well not doing that. On Christmas day, when other children are out riding their new bikes in the park and again, eating a lot of chocolate, my children will be sitting in church, possibly being shushed. Christmas has become so secular that, like Halloween, I sometimes feel like we’re not really joining in with it.
So I am taking my stand against this! We will celebrate Christmas, and we will do so in a spectacular way. Not just because I love tradition, and decorations, and the smell of something cinnamon-y baking (which I do, I do love those things!), but because (excuse me while I state the obvious) we have more reason to celebrate than anybody else this Christmas.
Last week we were looking in our Bible study group at 2 Samuel 9. Not the obvious passage to write about during a Christmas blog post but stick with me! David, King of Israel, summons the grandson of the previous king, and blesses him. He does it because he’d made a promise to a friend. He tells this grandson, who is called Mephibosheth, that he’ll protect him, restore his land to him, and he will treat him like a son.
What I was massively encouraged by is this: we have a King who is better than David, who takes us, rebellious as we are, and promises to protect us and provide for us forever. And God the Father adopts us as his children, to live with him in his house forever. Such mercy and surprising generosity! This is the God we celebrate, not just at Christmas but all year round. Christmas is just another chance to focus on one amazing part of the big rescue story. So let’s get our children excited about that.
Two years ago I was in a shop and my daughter took her shoes off. As I was asking her to put them back on, the assistant said ‘You’d better put them on, Santa’s coming soon.’ Miriam looked at her as if she’d just switched to speaking Swahili. What on earth could putting shoes on have to do with Santa? But I know it’s common for parents to use Santa as a reason to behave well and do as you’re told. Here are the two reasons why I don’t do that (sorry if this sounds harsh, I’m trying to be succinct and also I do have Santa issues; they’re not aimed at you):
- God is gracious. He does not treat us as our sins deserve. As Mephibosheth said to David, ‘Who am I, that you would notice a dead dog like me?’ You may not think of yourself as a dead dog, but dear Mephibosheth was right in thinking he had done nothing to deserve honour from the King. Similarly, we do not deserve honour, and yet the Lord our King showers us with gifts. Whether I’ve been naughty or nice (and of course I’ve been naughty), my Heavenly Father accepts me as his own and lavishes me with spiritual blessings.
- God is truthful. Of all the children who get told ‘You’d better be good or no presents,’ let’s face it, most of them end up with presents on Christmas day, either way. They’ve all been a mixture of naughty and nice, and (setting aside a few extreme cases) they all receive their gifts regardless. So I won’t use empty threats with my children because another word for an empty threat is a lie. It’s counterproductive (the kids do catch on sooner or later) and it’s not Kingdom-living. Just as David honoured his promise to Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan, so our Lord always keeps his promises. So I will try my hardest to keep mine.
This Christmas, rather than us all feeling that my children are somehow missing out, I want to show them how truly wonderful their God is. He always keeps his promises, and not just a little bit. He lavishes us with abundant grace, and brings about a rescue plan that we could never have dreamed of. He told his people it would happen, but who could have imagined how beautiful it would be when it did?
That’s why I recommend the Bible Overview Advent Calendar, which I can send you if you’d like it. There are loads of other brilliant resources out there too – let’s use them. In his book ‘Counterfeit Gods’, Tim Keller writes that idols cannot simply be removed, they must be displaced. Similarly, we can’t remove Santa from the Christmas scene our children are living in, but we can displace him with Jesus. Let’s elbow that big guy off his sleigh and plonk baby Jesus down in his place! Why would our children be interested in a grotto of sugar-highs when they know they can come to a 1st Century stable and find living water to satisfy their souls?
Can I encourage you to prioritise having a Biblical Christmas, even if it means compromising on gingerbread houses and shopping lists? I’m going to try. Join me!
After writing this, I watched this video which beautifully illustrates what I’m trying to say.