Christmas Traditions for Jesus- Mark Driscoll

Since we are in limbo this Christmas season while waiting to move into our new home, we haven't been able to do many of our own Christmas traditions and activities. Mark Driscoll did a poll on facebook asking what people's Christmas traditions for Jesus were. It was a great post with so many good ideas I want to remember, so I'm posting his article below! Hope you can find some good ideas too!

Christmas traditions for Jesus: Your ideas
By Mark Driscoll

Recently I invited folks online to share their favorite Christmas traditions—specifically, ways to keep the celebration about Jesus. Turns out lots of people bake a birthday cake for Jesus and read the Bible on Christmas Eve, but here are some other ideas for making the most of the season.

1. Make the most of your Nativity scene

“Our Nativity scene starts empty. Just a barn,” writes Lisa. “And as we unfold the story through our Advent devotions, we add to it accordingly. My kids literally anticipate the arrival of the Christ child.”

MaryJane’s family does something similar: “We do not put Jesus in the manger in the Nativity until Christmas morning. The empty manger is a great reminder of what the world was before Jesus came down.”

2. Make the most of Advent
Alicia recommended a resource called Truth in the Tinsel. “Each day there is a Scripture to read to the kiddos and a simple craft for them to complete to help them better understand why Jesus came and who Jesus is,” she writes.

Christina shared a friend’s family tradition: “They have a bowl of 25 ornaments (for Advent) and on each one there is one name for Jesus with an accompanying Scripture. They then discuss the Scripture, the name, and why it’s important.” Each day of Advent, the family hangs a new ornament.

3. Make the most of your Christmas tree

Sharon’s family has 12 special ornaments, each representing a different aspect of Jesus’ character: living water, King of kings, Lion of Judah, bread of life, the good shepherd, God with us, the door, the vine, light of the world, bright morning star, Lamb of God, Savior. “Each Christmas we start the season by making these the first ornaments we put on our tree to keep Christ the center,” she writes. “I have four boys, so as each name of Jesus is mentioned in the story, each boy reads the accompanying verse for that name of Christ and places the ornament on the tree. My guys are 16, 15, 13, and 12 now and they still love to start the season this way!”

Andy explained a tradition his father-in-law started called “the Christmas Nail.” They hang a large spike “on a sturdy branch close to the trunk,” he says. “Every year we pass the nail around and say what we are thankful for and there is nevera dry eye! The nail reminds us of not only the birth of Jesus, but also the death of our Savior! It really puts things in perspective!”

4. Make the most of your time together

Between school vacations and a little extra time off from work, Christmas is a crucial opportunity to bring the family together to celebrate, bond, and reflect on the year past.

In Timothy’s family, “Each person in the family writes on a card what they are giving to Jesus this year. We then put it in the tree to look at on Christmas day. It can be anything really, an idol that’s been getting in our way of worship, something we have been holding back from God, etc.”

Scott has his family “write end-of-year letters to each family member, recalling events and how we cherish each other.” Rachel’s family does something similar, using a candle: “When the candle is in front of you, the rest if the family shares a word of encouragement, or a way they see God working in your life. Very uplifting family time!”

5. Make the most of open hearts
During the Christmas season, Christians have a unique opportunity to reach outand connect with others who might not be as open to the prospect at other times during the year.

In Narelle’s family, “We usually invite for Christmas lunch someone we know who is unchurched and who may or may not have family to spend a meal with—this means we have the opportunity to practically show and tell about God’s love!”

I hope you find these ideas helpful for your family, your Community Group, or whoever you share Christmas with this year. Thanks to everyone who contributed their ideas.


May God's People in CT Show Up!

My heart is deeply grieved over the tragedy that happened this past Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. People everywhere (including myself) are understandably trying to make sense of such gruesomeness and evil. As we can all see from Facebook posts, social media, the news, etc., many people are very forthright with who they think are to blame, including beliefs that gun control and putting God back into schools is the answer to such tragedies as were seen on Friday.

But right now is not the time for debates... right now is a time for the people of God to come alongside those who are weeping and mourning. Romans 12:15 says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." I think overall, Christian communities are sometimes uncomfortable with sadness, deep loss, pain, and weeping. Maybe it's a misunderstanding of joy- that Christians are supposed to be joyful, and not sad. Maybe it's because we are simply afraid of feeling something deeper than we think we can handle. But now is a time for tears, for grieving, and for prayer. I don't live anywhere near Connecticut to grieve personally, to show up in person, alongside those who have lost their children and family members. My constant prayer since Friday has been, "Lord, please press on the heart of your church in Connecticut to simply SHOW UP." I've been praying that God moves in the hearts of Christians and pastors in the nearby area of Sandy Hook Elementary to not only pray, but to show up. Attend the funerals of children, even though they might not know them, shower these families with the love of Jesus in human tangible form... in the form of Christians showing up grieving and weeping alongside them, in person, and pray that God gives opportunities to give them real, true, and lasting hope among the devastating pain.

The world is a broken, hurting, messy, and often terrible place. It's laced with sin and sadness. When we encounter devastation we often ask ourselves where is God? What is His response to such turmoil?
"The birth of Jesus into a world riddled with sin is God's response to this shooting. The cross of Jesus stands as the greatest display of God's love for us and the loudest declaration of the lengths to which he will go to win our hope. The resurrection of Jesus settles our hearts and reminds us that even though this is not the way it's supposed to be, it will not always be this way.

God draws near to those who have lost what is dearest to them. And he does so through his people. And when someone asks us, “Where was God when this happened?” We can say with a hope-filled heart and trembling voice, “God is in the same place today as he was when his own Son hung on a cross. Jesus Christ took all this evil and suffering and swallowed it as a bitter pill. God so loves this sin-sick world that he gave his only Son to it. And whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life with our Father in a world made right.” (David Fairchild)

That is the hope these families need to see, feel, and know deep in their hearts. May God's people in Connecticut, SHOW UP.


The Jesse Tree Advent Activity

I've had a few friends ask about the Jesse Tree we did for Christmas last year, so figured I'd throw up a blog post about it if anyone else is interested in making one. We didn't put ours up this year as all our Christmas decorations are packed away for the move.

The Jesse Tree is an Advent tree that tells the story of God's plan to rescue the world, starting with when He created the world, through the Old Testament, and then ending with Jesus' birth. The name Jesse Tree came from Isaiah 11:1 in the Bible. Jesse is David's father, and Jesus came through that family line.

"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit." 

There are a lot of ways to do the Jesse Tree. I used these free printables and made them into ornaments. You can make your own or find another creative way to display each portion of the Bible reading. Last year, we used the ornaments and read the Scripture on the back that went along with each one. You do one a day, and we typically did it at dinnertime when we like to do our family devotions. When we take it out next year, I think I'm going to go through and incorporate the Jesus Storybook Bible and the Gospel Story Bible as the readings like I did for our Easter tree.

I printed the ornaments on cardstock and glued them to wooden craft circles. 
It's much easier to use a craft circle punch for the individual ornament print-outs. Cutting all those circles with scissors is nuts! 
Then I hot glued ribbon to the back to make the ornament. 
 Our little Jesse Advent Tree


What Do Christians Do About Santa Claus?

Will we tell our children the truth about Santa?

I often get the question, "So are you guys telling Mekonen and Evie about Santa Claus?" Or, random strangers in the grocery store ask my children if they've been good this year so Santa will bring them a lot of presents. As with most holidays, there are lots of discussions that need to happen on how to celebrate, what to celebrate, etc. The issue for us with Santa Claus is that there are a lot of myths on top of some truth about Santa, and how do we want to approach truth with our children? Well, plainly put, truthfully.

Similar to my post on What Do Christians Do About Halloween where I used Justin Holcombs's ideas of rejecting, receiving, or redeeming cultural practices, I've used this system along with Mark Driscoll's thoughts to think through and discuss Santa Claus.

But before we dive into the three R's, it's important to remember, that you as the parent, must research for YOURSELF. Do not just piggy back the practices, beliefs, and methodologies of those around you (Christian or not). I've encountered many Christians who are clueless about the history or origins of the cultural practices they so easily reject or recieve, without thought, simply because their church, family, or friends do such things. God has equipped us with the ability to think and discern and we should use that wisely.

There are three things the Christian can do in regards to Santa Claus.

1. Reject Santa- have no association with anything Santa. He is often demonized and even declared "sinful" in this category.
2. Receive Santa- fully accept everything Santa, portray him as fully truth
3. Redeem Santa- talk about Santa Claus for what he was, tell the truth as the truth, and the imaginary as the imaginary

Although we've re-routed some cultural practices we are participating in at Christmas for this season of life due to the young ages of our children and their current "all or nothing" mindsets, we have chosen to "redeem Santa." We plan on telling our children that Santa Claus was a real person (Saint Nicholas) that lived a long time ago and that people pretend to be Santa and dress up like Santa for fun, just like they might dress up when they play. We'll have fun with Santa and read Christmas stories about him, watch Christmas movies, and sit on his lap for a picture. We want them to know there is a real story too, and that a lot of fun and imaginary stories have been added to the real story of Santa, like a sleigh with flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, and visiting all the children in the world in one night to deliver presents.
Our issue does not come with the imagination and make-believe. Imagination and make-believe are a God-given gift to enjoy. What we are concerned about is lying to our kids. Some people may feel this idea is "over the top." But we want to teach our children that they can trust us because we will tell them the truth. And we also expect them to always tell us the truth. "Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we will distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We will ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but will teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged" (Panelists Blog- Mark Driscoll).

Brushing and feeding the reindeer at the Children's Museum. 
So we want our children to understand that Santa Claus is a mix of real and make-believe. Here are some parts of the real story of Nicholas.

Some ancient records reveal that Nicholas was born to a wealthy family and was raised a devout Christian. His parents died tragically when he was young and he spent much of his wealth taking care of the poor which involved giving gifts to children and sometimes filling stockings of presents for them. One record shares that he helped save three sisters from a life of prostitution by paying their wedding dowry that their family was too poor to pay. 

He was a Christian leader who became the Bishop of the port city Myra that the apostle Paul visited in the book of Acts in the Bible. He also was part of the Council of Nicaea that defended the diety of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325 (I thought that was fascinating. I didn't know that at all!)

He was canonized as a saint after he died on December 6, 343 and St. Nicholas' holiday was celebrated by giving gifts. This eventually became synonymous with Christmas since they were celebrated within a few weeks of each other. 

Other folklore of the time became entwined with St. Nicholas and is where it is said we got the fanciful stories of going down the chimney, flying reindeer, and delivering presents to all the children of the world in one night. (History facts from Mark Driscoll's panelist blog)

Evie thought the reindeer were real and was hesitant at first. She kept trying to feed them and was irritated that the hay kept falling out of their mouths. She also insisted that they were horsies. 
"Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved and served Jesus faithfully. So, we gladly include him in our Christmas traditions to remind us of what it looks like for someone to live a life of devotion to Jesus as God." (Panelists Blog- Mark Driscoll). We like the idea of being able to be honest and fun and provide great Christmas celebrations for our children.


Navigating Christmas

We are in full swing of another Christmas season, and we find ourselves again, trying to navigate how to properly celebrate Christmas within our family...in a way that celebrates Jesus first and foremost, but still includes some of our cultures fun traditions and seasonal activities. Last year, we had a very trim year by way of cultural celebrations and norms because we found our  almost 3 year old son overly infatuated with Frosty the Snowman and of no concern for Jesus. Yes, we realize he is just a preschooler, but we want to be careful to present the Jesus of the Bible in all His glory...one that doesn't stand a chance against the things of this world that seek to capture the hearts of our children. We tweeked some things and placed our focus where we believe it should be...simple and beautiful, with Jesus at the center- including reverence, generosity, and gratitude.
We've had many discussions over the last several weeks about juggling this time of year. We want to celebrate the Kingly newborn who came to redeem the world in such a way that it is awe-inspiring to our children. That's a huge job, a BIG responsibility, but a joyous one at that! Every year we want to keep hold of things that help us give the real Jesus, the awe-inspiring Jesus to our children, and take away things that fixate their minds and hearts on the commercialism of Christmas. Already, we've even changed things from last year, and I imagine we will do that every year as our family changes and grows.

Does this mean we will never mention Santa Claus? No, not necessarily. (Blog post on Santa coming up soon). What it does mean is that we will teach our kids the story about the real St. Nicholas who was devoted to Jesus and the poor. Last year, we were convicted about not emphasizing St. Nicholas at all (real or imaginary) due to the fact that we feel like our son was "all or nothing" in his mind's devotion. We've been able to handle a little bit of "Santa" this year (not in a "he's real"kind of way), so we'll continue to evaluate that entire area as time goes on.

We continue to navigate the present/gift giving world. We love giving gifts to our children, as I'm sure all parents do. It's so fun to see them open something and really enjoy it, especially since we don't shower them with toys and gifts during the year. Last year, we kept it pretty simple, with a few gifts and a stocking, as we will this year...especially since our kids gets gifts from very generous grandparents!

So all in all, we have no solid conclusions on anything... just trying to navigate the role of shepherding our children amidst spiritual and cultural holidays, and I imagine how that plays out practically will change from year to year. We just don't want to get to a point years down the road when our children are older that we have a huge mess to un-do.

This year, our Christmas season is in a bit of a limbo as we are living with grandparents while we close on a house. This has limited our yearly traditions of the Jesse tree and some family traditions as all our decorations and Christmas activities are packed away. I find myself overly concerned that I'm "dropping the ball" in teaching them this year about what Christmas is all about and fear I'm missing vital parenting time this season. But as Jon so gently reminded me today... it's all going to be just fine. And parenting is a life-long quest, one that has many mistakes, ups and downs, and even in that, our children learn the greatest and best lessons.

So I encourage you, at whatever stage you are in with your family, parenting, or personal life, to take a step back and ask yourself how can we better show a watching world the awe-inspiring Jesus of the Bible! Not a commonplace Jesus, but Kingly Jesus, the one who absolutely, positively doesn't hold a chance against a guy with a big belly, a bright red suit and presents galore. If we lack spiritual perspective, the world and its selfish materialism will always win.