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Christmas may be my favorite religious holiday. Why? Because it seems to be the only time when Evangelical Christians allow themselves to be spiritual. Most evangelical church services contain so much activity and noise that it is a wonder anyone can muster a spiritual thought. But at Christmas, no one seems to be freaked out by low light, candles, singing about silence at night, and accepting the mystery that is the incarnation of God himself. If you have discovered this blog, you have some interest in the growth of your Christian spiritual life so I have created a short guide to enjoying Christmas and getting the most out of it.
Discover Advent – Think about all of the time you spend preparing for Christmas. Is any of your preparations of the spiritual nature? Advent, which means “coming”, is a great way for you to prepare your heart for the coming of Christmas.
You may have seen the display at your church – the green reef with the white candle in the middle and the four candles surrounding it. Starting four Sundays away, a candle is lit each week until you get to Christmas day. Each of the candles represents an important idea surrounding Christmas such as hope, peace, and joy. In more liturgical churches, specific scriptures are read on specific weeks. I am not focused enough to organize my thoughts around the miracle of a virgin, a baby, stars, shepherds, etc., I need something that will guide my thoughts and scripture reading. Some of the resources that I have used to participate in Advent are: Watch For the Light: Readings For Advent and Christmas
(book), Following the Star
(online daily devotional), and Advent writings
from Jesus Creed (blog from Scot McKnight
Attend a Candlelight Service– If you have ever attended a candlelight service at Christmas Eve you may not have noticed things happening that never happen during the rest of the year. First, there is always a level of reverence that is not often found on a normal Sunday morning. Maybe, having the service at night has something to do with it. Second, silence is welcomed. In most of the Christmas Eve services that I have been to, everyone has a candle and at the end of singing “Silent Night” we all raise our candle in the air. Almost every time, the preciousness of the moment and the beautiful stillness of it lingers into a holy moment of silence that everyone is willing to hold on to. Even when we do start talking and making our way to the exits, it is in reverent hushed tones. Even the hardest soul seems touched by the mystery of the eve of Christ’s birth. We need more of these kinds of experiences in our spiritual life.
Serve Someone – Being someone who spent four years working in a benevolence ministry, I used to scoff at the Thanksgiving and Christmas “do-gooders” who suddenly want to give and volunteer but would never think of contributing the rest of the year. But, my cynicism is not very productive and may limit those who feel led, during these holiday times, to help out someone less fortunate. I don’t want to rob anyone of the joy of giving and serving another person.
The best moment along these lines, was after a Christmas Eve service at the benevolence ministry I mentioned. We had put together some small gift bags that we passed out to some of the people in attendance, mostly homeless and poor. I was taking some of the homeless people “home” to their camp site when I heard one talk about how this was a good Christmas. This guy was often belligerent, mean, conniving, and a downright troublemaker. To hear him speak in positive terms was already shocking but then he said,”This is a good Christmas because I got some socks, I really needed these.” We never know how far our small gifts of service will go. We might be surprised.
Embrace the Immanuel Life – This word, Immanuel, means “God with us.” This is a word that you need an entire season to meditate and reflect on. God with us in the form of a baby in a manger, born of a virgin, visited by shepherd and kings alike, pointed to by a star. God with us in the ordinary to provide to us the extraordinary. Immanuel. God with us. That is worth celebrating each year.