A Meaningful Christmas
By Rick Warren
On Halloween night this year, I made a quick stop at a grocery store where I stumbled onto a stock crew busily pulling candy from the shelves. It was only 6 p.m., but they assumed the trick-or-treat crowd had already bought all the goodies they needed.
What created such an unforgettable snapshot in my mind was that the Halloween treats were immediately replaced with Christmas candy. The corpse of Halloween had not even grown cold, but the artificial spirit of Christmas – crass commercialism – was already taking over the retail aisles of America.
Each year it seems our panicked dash through the Christmas season gets pushed back ever earlier, prodding us to work harder, rush faster, and spend more to make the approaching yuletide the best one yet.
Before you join the rush, it would be wise to consider this question: In the years to come, how much of your efforts will be appreciated, or remembered, by family and friends? How many of last year’s Christmas gifts and parties do you remember? Probably not many.
Intuitively we know that the key to having the “best Christmas ever” is not buying more or decorating more, but focusing on what matters most. The true significance of Christmas is found in pausing to celebrate God’s love for us and expressing that love to one another.
After talking with hundreds of people, I’ve concluded that most of us would love a simpler, more meaningful Christmas celebration. The problem is that we don’t know how. We don’t know how to get off the treadmill of shopping and wrapping and decorating and cooking and partying and cleaning up and returning gifts. Expectations are so high. It’s no wonder that mothers in particular often secretly dread the duties of December.
Is there an alternative to another season of exhaustion? Yes! You can plan a purpose driven Christmas, one that simplifies your schedule around five key purposes: meaningful fellowship, personal growth, helpful service, joyful worship, and cheerful sharing. By focusing on these five, you’ll reduce your stress, increase your joy, and experience the holiday in a far more significant way. It will also better prepare you for the New Year.
Make It a Time for Meaningful Fellowship
At Christmas, we usually spend more time with family, friends, and coworkers than at any other time of the year. Parties, events, and dinners abound. It’s easy to overload your schedule. One night last December I was expected to attend three parties.
Unfortunately, most of the conversations at these gatherings occur at a very superficial level. A lot of gossip gets passed around, and we go home – none the better.
Real fellowship occurs when there is heart-to-heart sharing. For fellowship to happen we must open up and reveal ourselves to one another, talking about what we care about most. When real fellowship happens, families and friends grow closer to each other. But it doesn’t happen automatically. It happens when we intentionally ask meaningful questions, and then take the time to listen to one another.
This year, when you’re planning your gathering of family and friends, I urge you to set aside a “fellowship” time when everyone can sit in a circle and take turns really listening to one another. Ask these questions: What were you most thankful for this past year? What have you learned from the past year? How would you like to grow next year?
If you take the time for authentic fellowship with your family and friends, I guarantee that everyone will remember it far longer than if you merely socialize with them.
Make It a Time for Personal Growth
In movies, Christmas homecomings are usually portrayed as happy times when everyone gets along, loves one another, and celebrates in perfect harmony. Reality, however, is often very different. Many people dread their annual family gathering because it reminds them of unresolved hurts, unsettled conflicts, painful memories, and uncomfortable relationships. Because all families are composed of imperfect people, we hurt one another – sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.
When we fail to forgive one another, families can go year after year celebrating Christmas with an underlying tension that prevents them from fully enjoying the season. In a purpose driven Christmas, you use the event as an opportunity for reconciliation, as God intended. At the first Christmas, the angels announced, “Peace on earth, goodwill among men.” In other words, Christmas is a time for reconciliation, for forgiving, and for restoring broken relationships. Jesus came to restore our broken relationships with God and with one another. That is why, for us, the purpose of Christmas is to make peace, which requires courage, patience, openness, initiative, and maturity.
Whom do you need to forgive this Christmas? From whom do you need to ask forgiveness? Resentment always hurts you more than the person you resent because bitterness keeps you emotionally stuck in the past. Let go of those hurts and remember this: The most valuable and significant gift you can give anyone this Christmas is your forgiveness, because it will allow you to grow.
Make It a Time for Service
Everyone knows the spirit of Christmas is giving. But the best gifts are often ones you can’t wrap in paper. They are gifts of service – where we offer our time, our talents, our connections, our ideas, or our energy to serve those in need around us.
Let me encourage you to do simple acts of kindness during this season. The end of the year is a hectic time, and everyone can use a helping hand at some point. It might be running an errand, picking up a package, offering to babysit, loaning some decorations, making phone calls for your church, or taking a meal to someone who is housebound.
Make It a Time for Joyful Worship
The words we most associate with Christmas are worship terms: Rejoice! Celebrate! Joy! Praise! Give thanks! Peace on Earth! Certainly you’ll want to make time for worship as you thank God for His Christmas gift to you: He sent a Savior.
You can worship God during your everyday activities. You can do this by performing those activities as if you were doing them for God and carrying on a continual conversation with Him while you do them. And with Christmas carols playing just about everywhere – in malls, doctors’ offices, and elevators – you can worship almost anyplace if you allow the words of those songs to sink into your mind: “Oh come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”
Make It a Time for Cheerful Sharing
During the Christmas season, you’ll find that people are more open to discussing spiritual issues than at any other time of the year. So share the message with your family and friends. Reach out beyond the church walls. It’s the best news they’ll ever hear!