I have a hard time just going through the motions. I've always been that way. I don't want to do something because it's what's expected or because I'm supposed to. It needs to give meaning to my life or I'd just rather not do it.
Over the years I had secretly come to resent the Christmas season. I know, what a blasphemous statement. I really resented what I had allowed the Christmas season to become.
I love the time with my family. I love the decorations. I love the food. I don't love spending a fortune on gifts for people I rarely ever see. I don't love fighting the masses of people to find that perfect gift. I don't love going from house to house making small talk with family I won't see until the following Christmas. I find it borderline torturous.
My entire life I had been reminded about the true "reason for the season." I went to the church plays, pageants, and performances and proceeded to go through the holiday motions of remembering what Christmas is really about. Right afterward, I would usually hurry back into the masses searching for the perfect gift. Obviously, I understood the "reason for the season."
I knew the true meaning of Christmas but I had never internalized it. I had never asked the question, "In light of what Christ has done for me, what should Christmas look like?"
If Christmas is really a celebration of the incarnation, God becoming flesh and living among us, then shouldn't we celebrate differently? Shouldn't Christmas become a season of thanksgiving, sacrificial giving, and reflection on the greatest gift ever given to humanity?
A few years ago my and wife and I had an honest talk about some changes we wanted to make. Could we successfully flip the current cultural tendencies and our own personal traditions and make Christmas more about giving than receiving? We didn't want to give this thought just our lip service.
We wanted to back it with our actions.
We made a game-changing decision that day. We decided to fight the cultural tendencies and attempt to internalize the "reason for the season." We were determined to create a new norm. The Nelson household would begin to see Christmas as a season of giving, loving, and blessing.
The goal is no longer to find the perfect gift. It is now to find the greatest opportunity to love, bless, and serve. Sometimes this is shown monetarily, sometimes through time, and other times through acts of service.
This isn't an anti-Christmas ploy. This isn't a call to throw out the tree, take down the lights, and cancel the trips to the mall. I really like all of that. It's about reclaiming the true story of Christmas. It's about entering into the story of Christ and understanding the season as a time of worship, giving, and loving. It's about conspiring to go against the mold.
This Christmas season we are taking our community of faith through a project called Advent Conspiracy (adventconspiracy.org). It's an attempt to reclaim the story of Christmas and allow our actions to provide the proof.
There's more than one way to do this. Every person will internalize the story of Christ in a different way. The responses from our people have been incredible to hear.
Some of our people have pledged to buy one less gift for themselves and/or spouse and give that money to a person/family in need. Some people have decided to make meaningful gifts for the people they love the most. Some people have talked their families into supporting a charity project instead of buying each other ugly sweaters that are never worn.
Others are finding opportunities to spend time with the people who really matter. Maybe it's time to write mom a letter, take the kids sledding or to look at lights. Maybe it's time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols as a family. Trade the gifts for a few memories.
This whole process has brought back the joy of Christmas. It has made us ask why it took so long to make this part of our Christmas routine. It has replaced burden with joy and greed with a spirit of generosity and thankfulness.
It's something we hope our kids will internalize. While we don't have to teach them to look forward to opening their own gifts, we hope they also begin to look forward to the opportunities to bless others. We hope they won't be able to wait each year to give away some of their favorite toys to kids who might otherwise go without this Christmas.
This is about reclaiming the amazing story of a Savior who came to a backwater town on the outskirts of an empire to a young peasant girl; and to begin to truly celebrate the birth of a Savior who stepped down out of eternity, took on flesh, lived a sinless life, and gave us the gift of life.
I invite you to conspire with us to reclaim the story of Christmas. Create a new norm for your family. I don't know what that will look like for you. That's the fun part. I do know that people who are willing to internalize and enter into the story of Christmas have the ability to change the world.
Matt Nelson is the lead pastor at City Church.
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