Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

07 Feb

Published Article-Simply Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized on 07.02.12 by Merlyn

Published in Connections Magazine (Nov/Dec 2011)

Learn about Connections here

Simply Christmas

By Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Christmas is certainly one of my favorite times of the year. I would love to be able to say it is only because of the birth of Christ—but if I am honest, while that is the main reason I love Christmas, it is not the only reason. The reality is I love everything about Christmas—well, almost everything. I will admit I am not in love with all of the consumerism, nor do I enjoy shopping with the multitudes. Thankfully, I usually finish early. I enjoy the preparatory and anticipatory nature of Advent. I love Christmas parties, time with friends and family, sending and receiving Christmas cards, and eggnog, to name a few things.

I have a mild obsession with Christmas decorating, aspiring to be a slightly classier Clark Griswold. In fact, last year I had so many decorations inside and outside of the house, we could not have the Christmas lights on and operate our garage door without blowing a breaker. I have since solved the problem with an electrical upgrade rather than a decoration downgrade. Those who love Christmas usually have one thing they hang on to—and maybe take a little further than the average person. For me, that thing is holiday decorating.

The love for Christmas is rooted in my upbringing, even though my parents were not at all churched. While I have continued this love for Christmas, I have also found my love for the holiday has taken its own unique form, especially since I became a father. With children ages four and six, Christmas is filled with a very special magic that reminds me what it really means to celebrate: to anticipate and to have a childlike faith. I love the children’s excitement for Christmas—their inability to sleep Christmas Eve, the looks

on their faces Christmas morning, their joy in receiving gifts. My hope is that their joy is about more than gifts, but I am also realistic about the world in which I live. I, too, love gifts, and each of us—no matter how much we resist the consumer nature of our culture—have stuff we like. Like many men, I love gadgets, especially from a particular store that has a partially- eaten fruit as its logo.

In the midst of all that comes with Christmas—much of which can be a huge distraction from the real meaning of the holiday—there is always a moment where it finally feels like the coming of the Christ is upon me. The singing of Silent Night on Christmas Eve is the moment where I am most aware of the coming of the Christ child. It’s a simple song, full of power and beauty. Christ came to earth in such a unique, humble, powerful, unexpected and simple way. Our North American culture, including the church, has lost sight of much of the real meaning of Christmas, and even the most faithful Christ followers can get caught up in all of the other stuff surrounding Christmas. Our Christmas celebration today looks nothing like the first Christmas.

One of my good friends, a colleague and a brother in Christ I have known since college, once offered me a challenge regarding Christmas. He and his wife had made a decision to try and keep Christmas simple for their children. They decided that each year they would ask their children to find a toy they really liked—not a toy that was junky or never used—and at Christmas time have them give that item away to a charity to be given to a child in need. They also decided to limit the gifts for their children to three gifts to match the number of gifts that the Christ child received.

At first, I thought the idea was noble—but also probably too much for me. Upon further reflection, there was something about the simplicity of this approach that resonated with me. As my wife Jessica and I discussed the thought (and pondered how poorly this idea would land with the grandparents), we realized we wanted a different Christmas experience for our own children. One of our great hopes and dreams as parents is that our children would be raised to know, experience and live out those things that really matter to Jesus. We want our children to be missional, to see the world as Christ does: caring for the least, the last and the lost, and ignoring the world’s values and messages that are sometimes too quickly accepted by the church.

One of the values that we believe is a kingdom value, but not necessarily a cultural value, is simplicity. In the end, we decided to scale down Christmas, not exactly to the extent my friend suggested, but pretty close. It was interesting telling our parents that we were only allowing three gifts from them for each kid, and it has been interesting enforcing it as well. We had to make an exception for clothing, recognizing that most kids don’t see clothing as a “gift”—and without clothing from our parents at Christmas, our children might have to walk around unclothed.

Exceptions and enforcement aside, it has been a great gift to us and to our children. Christmas is cheaper, simpler and more focused on what matters. We explain the number of gifts to our kids, reminding them of what the holiday is all about. We hope that as they grow up, they might enjoy the gifts that come with Christmas, but more importantly to know the One who is the giver of all gifts and has given us the greatest gift of all, Himself.

Like any loving parent, I want my children to have the best life possible, but I must have the strength to remember that the best life is the life Christ has for them, not the life our culture tells me they “need.” In embracing simplicity, we connect in a deeper way to the power of Christmas and teach our children and youth a little bit more about God’s kingdom values.

I love all of the trappings of Christmas just as much, if not more than the next person, but I have also come to realize that as a follower of Jesus, a pastor, a parent and as a human being, I need to embrace a different way of seeing and experiencing Christmas. God sent the Christ child to earth in this unique way for more reasons than we will ever be able to comprehend, and I am convinced that one of those reasons is so we might constantly embrace simplicity in our lives. When we fully embrace our culture’s version of Christmas, we miss out on the abundant experience Christ has for us—and in some ways, we fail to be a light to those who need to experience the Christ child.

May all Christ followers be people who enjoy the gifts of the Christmas season, embracing simplicity and allowing the God of the universe to redeem this holy day for all. Amen.

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