By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
Galatians 4:4-8 says, "But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, "Abba, Father." Now you are no longer a slave but God's own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir."
Paul, the writer of Galatians, articulates so perfectly the great hope that Christmas declares to the hearts of all humanity! We were destined for destruction because of our rebellion, but God made a way for us to join his family despite our evil nature. It is because of God's great love for us that He came down and rescued humanity by sending his Son as a sacrifice for our sin so we could be free from the chains of sin and become fully part of God's glorious eternal family.
Often, it's a challenge to remain focused on the glory that defines the Christmas story. It can so easily become about to-do lists, parties, food, and gifts. While Christmas traditions are a beautiful part of this season, we need to make sure that the drive to do all the things doesn't get in the way of the opportunity to be still and thank God for his Son, Jesus!
Here are some creative ways to prepare your heart and home for the message Christmas brings us all this year!
1. Observe Advent
Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas. Each week of Advent has a theme; in the first week, we light a purple candle for hope (or promise). We light a purple candle for preparation (or waiting or prophecy) in week two. In week three, we light a pink or purple candle for joy (or peace), and in week four, we light a purple or pink candle for love (or adoration).
Traditionally, you would light a candle each Sunday during a church service to mark the event, but many of us may not attend churches that practice advent candle lighting, which is okay. Reading, praying, and lighting candles to reflect with your family from home is perfectly appropriate.
Advent is about pausing and really allowing your heart to absorb the gift of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. You can find devotionals, books, and readings that can help guide you in your reflection in this season or just choose Scripture that speaks to the hope of Jesus to read in your home. This intentional time of prayer, reading, and reflection is an excellent way to prepare your heart for Christmas!
2. Make Christmas Art
Something about the holidays invites us to create. Many of us create special food and desserts. Others of us enjoy creating holiday cards, wrapping gifts with precision, or making new ornaments for the tree. There is something therapeutic about art. It allows us to slow down and focus on one task, and it is making something just for its enjoyment. Making art for God's glory is a holy practice.
Take time to make something that reminds you of how you are loved and who you love. Create handmade gifts for the people closest to you, paint new ornaments that will remind you of the joy of this season for your tree, or invite your children to put together holiday crafts while drinking hot chocolate at the kitchen table.
3. Meet a Need This Year
We all have gifts we get for our closest loved ones, but many times, while it's special to show them love, we aren't really meeting an urgent need for them. Many of us have more than we could ever use in our homes! Others in our community may find the pressure to buy over the holidays impossibly difficult. Consider how you could meet a need for someone struggling to provide Christmas joy for their family. Find out how to support children in foster care, especially those in group homes, as many are overlooked during this time of the year.
4. Be with Loved Ones
Many of us have events to attend over the next two months, but don't forego spending low-pressure time with your people. Family is wonderful, but if they aren't low-stress, this could look like taking a good friend out to do that Christmas shopping or meeting a neighbor for coffee. Plan joyous, laid-back activities with those who fill your cup!
5. Keep Up with Your Exercise Routine
The holidays can be a time when we get distracted and stop moving our bodies regularly. Most of us are eating more treats. If we add more sugar and stop exercising our minds, bodies, and spirits, we will start feeling the effects of our neglect. Keep up with your fitness routine this season, even if it just looks like squeezing some walks in. You are best able to have an open heart to the joy around you if your body is not suffering.
6. Eat Quality Foods
We all love the butter, sugar, and fat that are hallmarks of holiday classics! Enjoying a few treats is okay, but do your best to strive for moderation in the next few weeks. Your waistline and energy levels will thank you for not overdoing it. Make a plan; if you are going to a potluck, bring the "healthy side" and load up on it. Sample the other goodies, and you'll leave these events feeling much better than if you heap your plate full of too many goodies.
7. Plan a Christmas Date
If you are married with children at home, the holidays can be a really busy time! My husband and I celebrate our marriage anniversary on December 29th. We did not realize until we had kids that this is a terribly difficult time of the year to spend any quality time together. Parties, kid's events, kids getting sick, and so much more make it really hard for us to connect around Christmas. Thankfully, having an anniversary has forced us to plan some date nights in December, and they are some of my favorite memories from the holiday season.
8. Get Involved in Church Run Holiday Activities
Most churches celebrate and worship a little bigger over Christmas! Some churches offer special services, perform Christmas plays, do extra outreach, and more. Spend time with other Christ followers from your faith community this season, allowing you to remember the reason for the season together.
9. Create An Adventure Advent Calendar
Many grocery stores sell those cute chocolate-filled advent calendars this time of year to eat all through the month of December. My kids love them! A friend of mine shared that they skip the candy and instead create an adventure advent calendar for their family. She and her husband devised 25 activities to do as a family leading up to Christmas day. Some of these are small, like wearing Christmas socks, and others are bigger, such as taking a family trip to Great Wolf Lodge. You can customize your adventures to fit the family's needs, and it gives you a great excuse to create unforgettable memories with your people.
10. Surprise Someone
Choose someone to surprise with a gift, a meal, a note, an act of service, or a special outing. It could be a lonely neighbor, a co-worker, a fellow parent, one of your kids, and more. The sky's the limit! Just go outside of what is expected to show love for someone God puts on your heart.
As you prepare your heart and home for the Christmas season, ask that God show you how he can use all you have for his glory. May he give you the eyes to see the needs around you. Would he give you the strength to enjoy the celebrations and gatherings planned. Amen!
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. She has most recently published a devotional, Comfort: A 30 Day Devotional Exploring God's Heart of Love for Mommas. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.