I’m assuming you already know about these books from Andrew Peterson, but just in case one or two of you haven’t heard of them, I mention them here. My son has worn out books one through three and is counting down the days until the release of book four.
Are you finding it hard to be happy this Christmas?
Maybe you are lonely at a time when it appears everyone else has someone. Maybe you are dreading another tense and unpredictable family get together. Maybe physical suffering has drained your energy and enthusiasm for the season. Maybe, for a dozen different reasons, you are fretful and discontent.
So often we step into the holiday season on the wrong foot. We abandon the paths of comfort and joy so clearly marked out for us in God’s Word and pursue happiness in the holiday instead. We hope that cookies and carols will somehow numb the pain or distract us from everything we feel is wrong with our lives. Or we just grit our teeth, plaster on a grin, and pray it’s over soon.
But the way to peace and joy hasn’t changed because it’s Christmastime. Rather we have to be all the more intentional about seeking the Savior at a time when the distractions, and sometimes even the trials, are many.
So here are five habits for holiday happiness:
1. Contemplate the Incarnation
Consider the staggeringly glorious news that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
If we spend five minutes a day for the next twenty-odd days pondering the wonder of God become man to save sinners, we will be happy this Christmas.
We will be happy because we will have hope.
J.I. Packer, in his chapter on the incarnation in Knowing God, explains:
“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.”
Christmas isn’t a temporary band-aid on the pain of life; it is the announcement of the cure for ruined humanity. The Christmas message is hope to the hopeless. Hope for sinners under the curse of the law. Hope for the orphan, estranged from God. And it is a timely hope and certain hope.
This is “the most wonderful message” of Christmas. This is “good news of great joy”! (Luke 2:10)
If we are finding it hard to be happy this Christmas, the incarnation reminds us that our Savior has already purchased our everlasting joy.
2. Consistently Practice the Spiritual Disciplines
Christmastime is a busy time. There are parties to attend, gifts to purchase, wrap, and deliver, cards to send, and cookies to bake. And that’s on top of all the normal stuff we have to do! Something has to give, and sadly, our spiritual disciplines are often the first to go.
We rationalize: “Things will settle down after the holidays. I’ll get back to consistent quiet times in the New Year.” But as the days move closer to Christmas, our hearts become colder toward the things of the Lord. And we wonder why we are so unhappy at Christmastime?
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we give first priority to God’s Word and prayer, we will find our joy renewed each morning. Joy that sticks in the midst of Christmas craziness. For as the Psalmist says:
“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart...they are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” Ps. 19:8,10 (emphasis mine).
So as things get busy, let’s keep the spiritual disciplines at the top of our Christmas to-do list. Only then can we experience true holiday cheer.
3. Serve Others
Christmas celebrations—intended to be joyful reminders of the incarnation—can quickly become exercises in selfishness. But selfishness is a one-way ticket to a Joylessville. That’s why the third habit for a happy Christmas is to serve others.
The tricky thing is, I often think I am serving others at the holidays. After all, I am buying presents and throwing parties for other people, right? But my lack of joy when things don’t go according to plan reveals that I’m actually just serving myself. I want everything to go my way, to bring me happiness.
I so quickly forget that the Christmas season is about the Son of Man who came: “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). True holiday happiness is found by rejoicing in his coming, and by his grace, emulating his example of servanthood and sacrifice. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty became rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
J.I. Packer again:
“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor—spending and being spent—to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others—-and not just their own friends—in whatever way there seems need.”
How can we make ourselves happy this Christmas? By making ourselves poor. By spending and being spent to enrich our fellow human beings. By seeking our own happiness in the happiness of others. If we are rich in serving this Christmas, we will also be rich in joy.
4. Commune While You Serve
Serving is essential for holding on to happiness this holiday season. But if we try to serve without relying on God’s strength, without meditating on His Word, without offering up prayers to Him, we’ll still be lacking joy. We must commune while we serve if we want to be happy this Christmas.
Remember Martha in the Bible? How easily we morph into Martha at Christmastime! All service and no joy. But our Lord did not rebuke Martha for serving; He rebuked her for failing to choose the best thing (as her sister Mary had done): to sit at His feet and listen to Him (Luke 10:38-42).
This doesn’t mean we are to leave the Christmas shopping unfinished and forget about cooking the big meal. We are still called to serve; but, as Charles Spurgeon suggests, “We ought to be Martha and Mary in one: we should do much service, and have much communion at the same time. For this we need great grace. It is easier to serve than to commune.
Martha experienced the consequences of not communing with the Savior. But we don’t have to be anxious this holiday season. By meditating on God’s Word throughout the day, joy can be ours, even amidst the chaos and the crowd.
5. Turn Gifts Into Adoration
Christmas is full of wonderful gifts, and not just those under the tree. We experience gifts of family and friends, food and fellowship, music and memories.
But we often fail to enjoy these gifts as we should because we fail to remember that “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
C.S. Lewis tells us how to turn presents into praise:
“Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility….I have tried…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun….If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour” (as quoted in, When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper).
May every gift we receive this Christmas, every pleasure we experience, cause our minds to run back up the sunbeam to the sun. May we contemplate the glories of the Savior who gave His only Son so that we might enjoy all things through Him.
Happiness isn’t playing hide and seek for the holidays. It isn’t hard to find. Regardless of our difficulty or dread of the Christmas season, we can experience true happiness as we cultivate godly habits. That’s because our happiness is not found in the holidays, but “out of reach” of the holidays, in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Yesterday, I achieved a personal best in the event, “Preparing for Advent Season.” I’m usually still in recovery from Thanksgiving cleanup when I realize it is the night before December 1 and time to go on an emergency hunt for our advent stuff. Last year, I never even found our advent devotional and had to share with Janelle. It turned up some time in August, so I’m ready this year.
Each morning in December we light the appropriate Advent candles and my husband leads our children in Scripture reading and discussion from one of The Good Book Company’s Advent devotionals. The kids meanwhile munch on a piece of chocolate (for breakfast!) from the Advent Calendar house that Mom-Mom bought us a few years ago
Then every evening we light the candles again after dinner and read a Christmas story together. Over the years I’ve collected our favorite stories and developed a schedule of readings. Here it is below in case you want to follow or adapt. We’re going to try a few new ones this year as well so I’ll let you know how it goes.
Also new for Advent this year is a gift for your kids—that you give to yourself. A Better December by Steve Estes is a one-of-a-kind book that helps you apply the wisdom of Proverbs to the craziness of the Christmas season. Simple, humorous, short, and convicting, it will help you lead your family with wisdom and grace through a Christ-centered Christmas season.
I’m looking forward to the Advent Season where we anticipate the celebration of our Savior’s birth!
We watched this at our Independence Day get together today and cried. Thank you to all of the American soldiers who serve our country, and thank you to the families of active duty troops for your sacrifice. May God richly bless you all!
As a mom with young kids, summer is full of endless possibilities and countless hours to fill, depending on how you look at it. I get excited about all the memories we can make and overwhelmed by all I think I need to accomplish for a truly “successful” summer. I’ve got to go berry picking and set reading goals and make popsicles and get out the sprinkler, and the list goes on.
I’m trying to learn from my mistakes. If I try to do too many things, I end up failing to do most of them. So I want to start with the most important summer mothering goal: training my children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Teaching and training our children in the ways of the Lord requires intentionality. And so, in addition to the daily devotions my husband leads at breakfast, I decided to choose one area that I wanted to focus on with my children. Thus, I’ve inaugurated the “Summer of Kindness.”
My goal—and check back with me at the end of the summer on this!—is to focus on this one area for the next two months, and hopefully cultivate a greater culture of kindness amongst my four children.
I am going to try to lead the children to memorize at least one verse about kindness together, to talk to them about kindness in Scripture, promote kindness through encouragement and even a kindness contest, and to be faithful to bring appropriate consequences for unkindness.
Now I’m sure my plan will morph over the next eight weeks or so, and it might even get derailed. And I don’t have any unrealistic expectations that my children will be perfectly kind to one another after this. But as one wise person once said, I’ll make more progress than if I had never tried at all.
And by targeting this one area for growth, I know it will help with all the other areas. So, I’m raising a glass of lemonade, and more than a few prayers to a summer of kindness.
Just a reminder that Mother’s Day is around the corner and the 52home store order deadline for guaranteed delivery before the big day is May 1st. Don’t forget to enter the code MOM at checkout to receive 10% off your entire order.
If you take a survey among Christians and Non-Christians on what is the most important holiday for the Christian, the majority will affirm that it is Easter. But have you ever had the feeling that you just didn’t properly celebrate Easter because you let it sneak up on you? In more liturgical traditions, this hasn’t always been the case. For the last 1700 years many parts of the church have given attention to what’s called “Holy Week”. This is the week dedicated to remembering the last week of Jesus’ life, from Palm Sunday to Maunday Thursday to Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday.
We want to encourage you to not let Easter sneak up on you this year. To that end, here are some suggestions for Holy Week, along with a few resources to assist you:
Read the events of Holy Week in the gospels.
The most important way to prepare ourselves for Easter is through reading and meditating on Scripture. lists the events of Jesus’ final week along with the gospel texts that record them. This is ideal for helping one read through the relevant gospel passages during Holy Week.
“I believe it ought to be our continual aim and desire to go forward, and our watchword on every returning birthday and at the beginning of every year, should be ‘more and more’ (1 Thess. 4:1): more knowledge, more faith, more obedience, more love. If we have brought forth thirtyfold we should seek to bring forth sixty; and if we have brought forth sixty, we should strive to bring forth a hundred. The will of the Lord is our sanctification, and it ought to be our will too (Matt 13:23; 1 Thess. 4:3).” ~J.C. Ryle