I live near an animal sanctuary that converts one of its barns to a live nativity scene every holiday season. Camels, sheep, cows, and chickens surround a swaddled newborn baby in a manger, while volunteer wise men, shepherds, and Jesus' parents look on lovingly. Outside, a bonfire, hot chocolate, and Christmas carols help make this yearly tradition a family favorite. Each year I walk into the barn, smell the pungent, earthy aroma, pet the livestock milling around, pay my loving respects to the baby, and think, "We are all in trouble."
How did we go from a simple scene like this to opening the mall doors at 4 a. m.? When did it become mandatory to attend a cookie exchange, volunteer in our child's classroom, and entertain our in-laws in Martha Stewart style—all in the same week? Why are we throwing dinner at the kids in the car while we cart them from one Christmas performance to the next? The valley between how Jesus came into our world and how our world now treats his birthday is an ever-growing chasm. The good news is, I know several families who have consciously decided to withdraw from the holiday shopping madness, extravagant spending, and "go, go, go" over-scheduling that notoriously shows up between November and December. I've followed their lead and enjoyed a more relaxed holiday pace. Unfortunately, many of these people, myself included, make up for their brief worldly sabbatical during the remaining 10 months. That's why, this year, I vow to celebrate Christmas all year long.
Don't get me wrong, keeping "Christ" in Christmas is a great place to start. No one can argue the value of making a list, and then cutting that list in half. I know families who forego gift-giving entirely in lieu of an enjoyable vacation, crafty couples who have committed to homemade gift-giving, and families who put everyone's name in a hat and choose one person to buy for. These folks have been excellent examples of how to better use time, talents, and treasure! But what if we took their example a few steps further and gave our time, talents, and treasure their due diligence every day? Because here's the thing: It's not hard to be a Christian between Thanksgiving and the end of December. It's not hard for me to do things in the name of Jesus when it's a calendar event. I tend to hit a snag the other 300+ days. And I don't think I'm alone.
Giving your time
For instance, if you loved the idea of trading in gift-giving for a family vacation, spending more time with the people you love may be tugging on your heart. That's a good thing. Nowhere in the Bible can I find a passage that reads "Thine child shall be enriched from sunrise to sunset with activities that range from piano to soccer if thee wants to enter the kingdom of Heaven." I have found, however: "Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it" (Proverbs 22:6). That's quite a responsibility—one that takes considerable time. Yes, we enjoy cheering our kids on in sports and at recitals, but we've had to be careful to keep that a peripheral part or our schedule—not the focal point to which all other activities must bow. (Yes, even soccer practice had become a false idol at one point.) Our children have been been divinely ordained into our care. It's imperative that we don't hand off that responsibility to coaches, teachers, mentors, or experts. Just as we're learning to say "no" to a well-meaning but inconsequential invitation to celebrate the holidays, let's also take care to say no to well-meaning, but ultimately inconsequential, time fillers.