Rethinking Christmas

 I've been thinking a lot the last little while ,as we celebrate the Christmas season,  how overall  it makes me more uncomfortable than it used to.   While kids rip open gift after gift to add to their elaborate toy rooms on Christmas day thousands of other kids will die that same day of starvation and neglect.   Countless others are living in quiet desperation.  Not exactly a cheerful "Christmasy" thought.    We as Christians are celebrating the birth of Christ but if he were here would he be sipping cider and buying more video game systems to add to his collection?  I suspect he would he be sitting on the street corner next to the drug addict, weeping by the grave of a forgotten child, or wrapping his arms around the woman dying of AIDS.  
I love Christmas! I love the decorations, lights, our snow and frosty white trees.  I love the baking, eating treats the getting  together with friends and family.  I love Christmas trees and pretty wrapped presents. 
Even though I love a beautiful sparkley Christmas as much as anyone... I think much of  this season reflects the shiny glossed over unhappiness, apathy,  emptiness, and busyness that define our overindulged society.  Maybe that sounds cynical.  Sentimental once a year displays of shallow generosity in the name of the "spirit of Christmas" have little to do with the Spirit of Christ.  It is a paradox that I find difficult to reconcile.  
I re-read an old post yesterday that I wrote while contemplating how some friends of ours live their lives completely opposite to what our society strives for.   If I desire my kids to grow up to radically love and live 
like Christ then I must raise them in a radically different way than our culture raises kids.  Not as seclusionists but as a family with vastly different priorities.  If I want my kids to swim upstream I have to teach them how to do it by getting wet myself.   
Here is a little snippet from that post:
In our culture we think that if our kids don't have the trendiest clothes,  top of the line electronics,  a fairy-tale-worry-free childhood, and a schedule designed to give them every social  advantage in life, we are sacrificing them.   In Canada, we love our kids with stuff.   That is the standard of 'good parenting'.   We aspire that they  become adults that are "successful" in the worlds eyes.  We want them to be "happy".   This is us taking care of our first ministry.  Right?
Maybe not.  Maybe it's doing the opposite.
       I think in reality, when we aren't willing to give up our inner circle "quality of life", our possessions, our security, our pride, whatever we cling to,  it is because those things have become our passion.  Our idols.  We  tuck God neatly into the pocket of our Sunday suit.  We thank God for blessing us, throw him our tithe,  host a church dinner party, and ignore the rest of his call on our lives...whatever that might be.   We don't want to give up those things and  it breaks our hearts even more to allow our kids to struggle, to sacrifice, or to go without. 
   I know it does for me...
even though without struggle, sacrifice and discomfort character traits like compassion, generosity, empathy, courage, respect and true gratitude cannot develop (not to mention creativity, ingenuity, and imagination).  Those are what I want most for my children.  Those are the traits I want in my children as adults...whether they are successful in the eyes of the world or not.  
            If our children don't see us loving, serving , giving, or stepping beyond our own comfort into a life of faith, we steal from them the chance to see what a  big God we serve.  In our attempts to give them every "advantage" we  hobble them spiritually and stunt their ability to develop strength of character.

I don't know if this has always been intentional on our part.  We have gone, served, opened our home, given...but often felt guilty about it.  I have compared my kids to their brand name dressed peers. Wondered if my child's patched jeans will cause permanent psychological damage.  I have wondered if my child will suffer by living in a developing country and not being able to take ballet, gymnastics and soccer lessons for a  winter.  My children have given up their bedrooms at a moments notice, shared their toys, and shared their parents.    I have agonized over those things.  I have wondered if my children will grow up hating me for it. 
I think I am finally at the point in my life, and with enough parenting years under my belt, to see a glimpse of what God is doing in my kids hearts.  It is surprising, it is wonderful, it exactly what I have been trusting God for.   We are seeing fruit.   I have noticed this Christmas as we are home having a "normal" North American Christmas that my kids are unexpectedly acting anything but "normal".   I am witnessing subtle, unprovoked, uncohersed unselfishness during a season of rampant brattiness.  They have not once begged, obsessed about, whined for, demanded or expected anything particular for Christmas (and if you know my kids they lean toward obsessive personalities!).  This has shocked me.  Instead they have conspired, saved, made lists, and discussed among themselves what they are buying for each other and for others.  They have bought their second hand store treasures and carefully wrapped them.  I must admit Silas is completely obsessed with the containers of Christmas sweets in the deep freeze though.
Instead of circling pictures and combing through a Sears Wish Book...they have carefully looked through every charitable gift giving catalog we have received circling pictures of goats, and clean water wells.  They were thrilled to  shop for , fill and send away shoe boxes to kids who may have never received a gift in their lives.
They carefully chose gifts for their friends in Mexico.   They regularly talk about their favorite Christmas memories which include caroling in impoverished migrant field worker camps last year, giving away the toys in their own small toy bin.  I really didn't expect something  that most parents would shield their kids from  would win out over memories of past vacations and gifts.
 It is all the little, and big, things we do that teach our kids things that no well intentioned lecture will ever teach them.  It seems so insignificant at the time but God is building those moments into something he will use for his purpose.  
The world needs us to raise strong kids not safe kids.   One way of doing that is leading the way ourselves.  When we have a strong hope, a dangerous faith, and a significant purpose in life...our kids will see that.  It will be irresistible.  That's my theory.   Our example will have a greater impact than any legalistic rules, heavy handed hypocrisy, or self indulgent apathy coated in religion.  Actually the impact will be great either way.   Our kids will either learn to trust God or learn to despise him.  

I think doing ministry (loving, sacrificing, serving, reaching out) WITH our kids, as a family, is an incredible chance to give our kids every real advantage in life.  Once you lay those things down,  you'll realize the real blessing God gives us isn't in our possessions.  It's the indescribable joy His purpose in our life brings.  That's living a blessed life.  
I wonder as we celebrate this season of gluttony, self indulgence, entitlement, and wracking up credit card debt to give things to people that they don't need or appreciate.....
What  does our elite celebration  have to do with a shunned, teenage mother giving birth in a dark, cold cave?  Does it reflect the redemption of mankind in a beautiful, horrible, unexpected way?  
We (at least those of us who still remember that Christmas is about something more significant and sacred than a fat guy in a red suit) say we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  What does that mean to us?    December 25th is not Jesus technical birthday. It is a day set aside to celebrate the SIGNIFICANCE of his birth.   God's eternal plan for this world being set into motion on the night of his birth.  Hope, peace, joy, and redemption.    We have already been given a gift that all the brand name clothes, video game consoles, diamond jewelry and fruitcake can't ever compare too.   

That same young peasant woman who over 2000 years ago trusted , obeyed and gave birth to a baby also sung this:

"for the Mighty One has done great things for me-
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought  down rulers from their thrones 
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
bu has sent the rich away empty."

Let us celebrate that which is worth celebrating. 
"Praise to the Lord
the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people."

"because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from Heaven 
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests"


Chasity said...

Wonderful post. Love your thoughts and agree 100%.

A Mom After God's Own Heart said...

Wow, Carla, what a fantastic post! I completely agree with you.

We Are Family said...

Images like these haunt me. I am broken for children such as these.

Julie said...

Love this post. A few years ago..one Christmas...we just said, "Enough". We just couldn't justify the "excess"!! God has been so good, our children hearts have been softened to others needs and they have miniscule Christmas lists now!