In 2008 our family was hit hard by the recession. With the financial downturn, we knew that a “normal” Christmas was not possible. After much discussion, we decided to participate in a very simple, homemade gift exchange with inexpensive and creative gifts. As Christmas approached I wondered how our family would do—gift giving was a huge part of our holiday tradition. Would Christmas feel the same?
On Christmas morning, my father made the traditional fire and he captured on video the family cat batting ornaments on the tree. Our table featured a cherry red tablecloth, oranges, pumpkin bread, and fresh coffee. Nostalgia trumped technology as my Mom played a Christmas carol tape we had enjoyed since the 80’s. Some things had certainly not changed!
The first gift was a packet of “coupons” with promises of help with family projects. My mother almost cried—“acts of service” are her love language! We exchanged other homemade gifts such as framed family photos, do-it-yourself projects, and home baked goods.
The last gift was a card from my father—offering us all a cooking lesson. A highly intelligent man who had recently retired, Dad took on new projects like they were his new job. He offered to teach us the art of deep frying sweet and sour pork and sautéing broccoli beef. Our Christmas dinner was our cooking lesson! After a delicious meal, we spent time remembering the Christmas Story. My father’s deep voice led us in worship-filled Christmas carols before watching The Nativity Story as a family.
I look back on that Christmas as one of my most memorable. The simplicity was refreshing. After many Christmas holidays filled with last minute shopping, this one felt distinctly different. I was free to focus on my faith in Jesus and time with family—without extraneous add-ons.
Fixing Your Gaze
Hebrews 12:2 talks about fixing our eyes on Jesus, just as a runner keeps his eyes on the finish line in a race. This concept reminds me of a key lesson I learned while snowboarding. During an early snowboarding lesson, I seemed to bump into a tall metal sign each time I exited the chair lift. My instructor pointed out that because I kept staring at the sign to avoid it, the affect was the opposite of my intention! My body followed the object of my focus. My shoulders and hips instinctively moved to wherever I was gazing.
Paul reminds believers in Colossians 3:2 to set our hearts on “things above, where Christ is.” Though my old worldview is gone and my life is now hidden with Christ, I need to keep focusing on Him! Anxiety is not meant to govern my life. Instead of dwelling on problems, I am to dwell on things that are right, noble, and excellent (to name a few) (Philippians 4:6-8).
The “tyranny of the urgent” no longer needs to dictate my responses and actions at every turn. Instead, I can focus on Christ; I can allow my relationship with Him to sift through my options and dictate my actions. This Christmas, don’t miss the opportunity to evaluate your gaze. Are you focusing on things that are valuable, yet distracting, or on Christ and His purposes?
Christmas Spiritual Practices that Keep Our Gaze on Jesus: Try out these ideas to help keep your eyes on Christ in the midst of a busy season.
- Intentionally incorporate worship into your daily habits.
- Practice cheerful generosity (2 Corinthians 9:7). The choice to give brings joy!
- Guard your “Sabbath rest”; say “no” when needed!
- Practice faith with your “to do” list. When you are not at peace to finish a task, leave it; in faith, trust that God will give you time to complete it later.
- Carve out time with family decision makers to plot how to best navigate this special season.
- Take mental “snapshots.” Stop and reflect during wonderful holiday moments. Be fully present and enjoy each moment!
- Frequently verbalize your gratitude to the Lord and others.
- Spend time meditating on the Christmas story. Ask God for fresh eyes as you enjoy reading Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 1:26-2:21.
- Reflect on the concept of “Immanuel”—God with us. Allow your heart to become aware of God’s presence with you daily. (Enjoy meditating on Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:22-23.)