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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bringing Christ into Christmas

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I am speaking in church tomorrow with Cale, we will be traveling to a little town called Hanna and attending the branch there (a small and rural congregation). The topic is "Bringing Christ into Christmas." Cale asked me to talk about some of our family's Christ-centered traditions (to make preparing for the talk easier on me I guess). This was a great opportunity for me to pause and think about the reason for the season:

The beginnings of Christmas were simple. Together, Mary and Joseph celebrated the day of our Savior’s birth in humble circumstances. Today, entire nations celebrate. Santa Claus visits, parades are held, food is shared and gifts are purchased. These are all fun elements of Christmastime and contribute to the magic of the season, but these celebrations cannot compete with the joy of that first Christmas when only a family celebrating the birth of a divine child were present.

Elder Jeffry R. Holland said, “At the focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen. …First and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel.”

To understand the real meaning of the spirit of Christmas, we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ, who is the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

President Ezra Taft Bensen said, “Without Christ there would be no Christmas, and without Christ there can be no fullness of joy.” He goes onto say, “It is my testimony that the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus the Christ, is the one perfect Guide, the one perfect Example. Only by emulating Him and adhering to His eternal truth can we realize peace on earth and good will toward all.”

It is easy to remember the true meaning of Christmas while sitting in a congregation at church on Sunday. But do the hustle and bustle of December make your Christmas too crowded for the Savior? Do our “To Do” lists distract from its true meaning? Capturing that spirit amidst the often hurried celebrations we hold today can be difficult. But it isn’t impossible.

It is very important for us as parents to teach our children the true meaning of the season. Otherwise, they will leave our nests only understanding that Christmas means getting toys, eating yummy food, decorating our homes, watching the movie Elf, and sitting on Santa’s lap. These are all fun things, but are not going to bring the message home to our children that Christmas is really about one of the most important events in the history of all time, the birth of our Savior, next to the Atonement of Jesus Christ
I had wonderful examples in my parents’ of how to make Christmas more Christ-centered. There was much thought and planning involved in teaching us children the true meaning of the season. December was a month devoted to the Savior. It was centered on service and love for our family members and neighbors and learning more Him. I have tried to influence our own children with many of these Christmas traditions, as well as combine traditions from my husband’s family and create a few of our own. I believe these family traditions are crucial; they are what help bind us together for the same purpose year after year.

Let me just mention a few of our Christ-centered Christmas traditions; I am sure many of you have similar traditions in your families. Some of these are kid-friendly and others are appropriate for all ages:

• We currently have about 5 different nativities for the children to play with. They are kid-friendly and will not break. I put them out the first of December and our children play with them all throughout the month. We have 1 hands-off nativity that is the first thing people see when they come into our home.

• A few years back, there was a scripture advent for each day of December in the Friend Magazine. I put the scripture verses in a wooden advent with little doors for each day. Sometimes I stick a treat in there as well. We try to read a few verses of the Christmas story every night before bed in December.

• We try to get our young children involved with service and gift-giving. We make treats together, and all pile into the car to deliver neighbor and friend gifts. This teaches them to get outside of themselves and think about someone else.

• Something that I would like to do when our kids are a little older (that I did every year growing up) is the 12 days of Christmas for a family in need. This was one of the highlights of Christmas. We would plan and deliver in secret, ring the doorbell, leaving a gift and then run as fast as we could down the street to the getaway van. We knew we were brightening the season for a family in need.

If any of you have been on the other side of service during Christmas, then you understand the incredible meaning this has. Let me tell you a little story, on the surface, it is about a Nintendo Gaming System. But exploring a little further, it was definitely the most meaningful and Christ-centered Christmas of my entire life thus far.

There were a few years growing up when my Dad was unemployed. Finances were very tight and as a family we all felt this hardship. Looking back 20 years later, I know this is one of the reasons why I have a close family, but during the time it was a trial for our family. As a parent now, I can’t even imagine the heartache and worry my parents must have felt. I was 13, my older brother was 15, my younger brother 10 and my little sister was 4. My parents did a nice job of trying to make everything seem as normal as possible for us that year, but we knew this Christmas would be different, that there would be fewer gift-giving and receiving. We had just finished reading the Nativity story for our Christmas Eve tradition when we heard the doorbell ring. We all ran to see who it was but no one was there. We looked down and there was a wrapped Christmas package. We opened it up and it was a brand new Super Nintendo!!! These things were expensive back then and definitely a huge luxury. As a family, we all started to tear up to think that someone had thought of us during the hustle and bustle of their Christmas season, we had friends who were aware of our situation and wanted to lighten our load that moment. The story doesn’t stop here, a few days earlier we had packaged up our used Nintendo and delivered it to a family with three boys who was in need. And it doesn’t stop there either, come to find out my parents were able to do Christmas because they received another anonymous gift earlier in the month, $500 dollars underneath the door matt. Since then we have figure out who gave us these gifts and I still get emotional when I think of their service. We definitely felt the love of our Savior that Christmas; none of these events were circumstantial. The joy we felt from giving and receiving has stayed with me all these years.

• We have Christmas music going all the time, most of my Christmas music collection are songs about our Savior. We try to sing Christ-centered Christmas songs, especially during Family Home Evening.

• On Christmas Eve, we do a nativity puppet show reading along with the scriptures.

• We watch Mr. Kreuger’s Christmas every year.

• Growing up, we had a ceramic figurine of Santa bended on knee toward the baby Jesus. All throughout the month of December we would place 1 piece of straw (which were actually little pieces of yellow yarn) in the Savior’s manger for little acts of service and kindness. This is another tradition that I hope to bring to my family!

• There were a few years where we combined with another family and prepared a Christmas program to be performed at a nearby nursing home. We would perform our Christmas piano numbers along with singing. This brought a lot of joy to the people who lived there.

• We have collected over 30 books for Christmas, most of them Christ-centered, some of them fun. We read a few books each night before bed. We also read some of the Christmas stories I have accumulated over the years. Let me read to you one of my favorites:

Trouble At The Inn (read only if there is time)
For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one annual production of the Nativity Play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wa11y would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.

Most often they’d find a way to keep him out but Wally would hang around anyway- -not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who’d say, “Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.”

Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lambard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s yearly extravaganza of crooks and creches, of beards, crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lambard had to make sure he did not wander onstage before his cue.

Then came the time when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn.
Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

“We seek lodging.”

“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. The inn is filled.

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”

“There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

“Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a. place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

“No! Begone!” The prompter whispered from the wings.

“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside the inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have MY room.”

Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others--many, many others--who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

If we will do the little things to bring Christ into Christmas, and find a better balance during the commercialized season, then some of the other light-hearted traditions (like presents, Christmas parties, making gingerbread houses, Christmas lights, etc.) will not be the only focus and are just added traditions we do for Christmas to make it special. It really is possible to find this balance if we will take the time to plan and prepare.

Let us all remember the true meaning of the Christmas season by bringing Christ into Christmas through our family traditions.

"This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again." President Howard W. Hunter


The Little's said...

I loved this post, Suzette! Great ideas that I am looking forward to incorporating with our kids. Also, that story made me cry. Working with kids that have disabilities made it hit home pretty hard. If only we had such big hearts...

JennyH said...

This talk is fabulous! Even though Christmas is over, I want to share it with my Young Women somehow! I'm sure I can figure out a way to squeeze it into a weeknight activity...

Tiffany said...

Thank you Thank you! I am speaking this sunday at an RS meeting and my topic is remembering the Christ in Christmas. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful and inspiring ideas :)