‘Tis the season. The season to ‘put Christ back in Christmas’ or ‘make your holly Christmas holy’ or some other cliché, play on words phrase that entices you to make the holiday more ‘Christian’.
We hear about how to incorporate our children in:
- acting out the nativity story,
- implementing a Jesse tree,
- playing hide and go seek with baby Jesus figurine,
- an advent calendar,
- an Owlegories, Buck Denver, Veggietales or other Christian based Christmas show,
- having a birthday party for Jesus,
- reading different nativity books,
- going through an all-inclusive book such as Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas,
- reading through The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones,
- buying gifts for a child off the angel tree,
- making cookies for the neighbor,
- writing letters to distant relatives,
- buying gifts for others,
- and on and on (and on and on) the list goes.
And, y’all, the lists are usually good. I do many of the things on this list. And I know other, God-fearing, God-honoring, families who do different activities designed to center their children’s hearts and minds on Christ during Christmas time.
But I think we are missing the mark.
We are adding sprinkles, and chocolate chips, and icing to cookies that have no flour. Yes, the toppings are designed to enhance the cookie, but they are not the substance of the cookie. Our substance we ought to hone in on in our children is not the outward expression of treasuring Christ in Christmas, but the inward one of cultivating a love for Him that transcends through Christmas.
But how can I expect them to love and treasure Christ this Christmas, when I don’t?
I once had a math teacher in high school whose degree was in art… and you could tell. She did not love algebra and have a passion for others to know it as well, and her tone, mannerisms, level of excitement all reflected that. Sure, I learned algebra and I knew how to do it, but that was all. She taught me what I needed; the formulas, the strategies, even real world application. And I aced the class. What more could you want?
However, in college, I took a statistics class with a professor who loved statistics, I mean, he really did. He was the dean of the math department and did not need to teach any longer, but because he had such a passion for statistics, he taught incoming freshmen. No lie, it seriously made me want to major in mathematics. He was so excited to share about the formulas, bell curves, distributions, as well as the many ways what we were learning were applicable. He changed the way I viewed statistics and I not only really enjoyed the class, but had a new appreciation for statistics.
Now the content in these two courses was essentially the same – how to solve problems as well as real world application – however, the passion was palpable in one and non-existent in the other. And it made a world of difference.
Our discipleship of our children works the same way. Sure, we can say and do all the right things, but if the passion is not there, will it matter?
Enter Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is basically a big long farewell speech from Moses to the Israelite people. So Moses was saved as a baby because his mom put him in a reed basket, sent him down the Nile, only to be scooped up by Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted into the family. Then he flees Egypt when he is older because he killed an Egyptian in anger. Then God calls him back to save all the Israelite slaves. So the 10 plagues happen, the Israelites flee. The Red Sea splits in 2 and they go across. Then they end up wandering in the desert because of some disobedience. Now they are just about to enter the Promised Land. Moses will die soon, and this is his farewell speech, giving final instructions as well as encouragement and motivation.
Deuteronomy 6, often titled ‘the Greatest Commandment’ in modern Bibles, is called the Shema. It exhorted the people how to disciple and teach the next generation.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
It goes on to further unpack the idea of remembering God and teaching the next generation to remember him as well.
But what was the first thing we are supposed to do?
Love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and all our mind. It’s not ‘teach your kids to love me’, it’s not ‘teach your kids the 10 commandments’ and it’s not even ‘you, do the 10 commandments’. No, the beginning, the crux of discipleship, to the nations, to unbelievers, to your neighbor, to your kids, is: ‘you, love me’.
It starts with us.
So how can we cultivate a love for God in our own hearts?
Remembering him, who he is, his character, his promises about himself and who we are; basking in the gospel, seeping it into our hearts. Remembering that in our indifference to him, in our disobedience of him, in our disrespect to him, He STILL loves us. He chose to call us friends, when we act anything but friendly.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:3)
Our hearts and minds are prone to not only wander, but also grow calloused to the gospel. One way to fight and counteract that is to be asking the question ‘What stirs my affections for the Lord?’ What, when I’m doing it, when I’m around it or dwelling on it creates in me a greater hunger for, passion for and worship of Christ and His mission? Is it early mornings and hot coffee, a particular book, certain music, the great outdoors, a certain place, a genre of movies?
For me, its coffee in a recliner and the back doors open. It’s been books like The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, or Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, or Lyn Austin’s Biblical Historical Fiction novels. It’s listening to worship music. It’s watching certain movies or TV shows that spur me to think bigger than my small bubble or reflect on the sacrifice of Christ, like through the movie Arrival or the show Stranger Things more recently for me. It’s having meaningful conversations on the Christian struggle or sermon podcasts, like those of Tim Keller, John Piper, or Afshin Ziafat, or by going outside and playing with the kids with no agenda.
It’s these things that churn my love and propel me to be in His word, converse with Him, and submit my life over and over again to Him. So I will surround myself and carve out time for some of these things to help in nurturing my heart to love and savor Christ this season.
And if my love can be cultivated, if it can ignite and burn or even just simmer with passion, the work of discipleship will much more easily and naturally flow out of me – whether it looks like an advent calendar, a structured day of serving, or casual unplanned conversations on the greatness of Christ – and the work of discipleship will be much more effective.
So let us, as parents, be intentional this holiday season to pray for a cultivation of love for Christ in our own hearts, pursuing and making space for the things that foster that love, then, let’s enjoy the beauty and the fruits of the overflow of that love in our children and those around us.