As you read this, the Christmas season is approaching a climax. Before Christmas passes, I’d like to suggest a few activities to help make the most of your observances of this Christmas season.
These practices will, I believe, help make the holiday’s meaning and message more real.
“Christians celebrate Christmas because they see, in the person of Jesus, God’s reign in-breaking amidst the sin, pain, despair and seemingly endless cycles of violence in our world,” says Rector Michael Burke. “The traditional teaching of Advent is threefold: to prepare for the birth of the Messiah, in the form of the tiny Christ child, in a place known only to those for whom the world has no place (or ‘room’).”
Advent observers experiencing a period of watchful waiting for the Messiah may be better prepared than other worshippers to celebrate the birth of Jesus as an eagerly awaited event.
As you celebrate Christmas, use this time to share with those around you the good news of His wonderful gift of love and redemption. Jesus was mostly rejected by his own people, yet much of his brief ministry was directed toward casting out devils, bodily and spiritual healing, kindness to prostitutes, loving the unlovely, and giving hope to the poor. Gandhi is famously quoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Those of us who are Christians can remember this by opening our hearts and lives in loving response to the work of Jesus. Let’s share it with our children and everyone around us. Christmas offers many opportunities to do this. Here are 10 ways to restore the true spirit of Christmas in yourself, your family and friends and others.
1. Attend both a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day service.
Both are important. If you have children, look for appropriate Christmas Eve services. Many churches have them. They can be memorable for children and adults alike. A double-page spread in today’s Alaska Dispatch News lists many services offered by area churches. Personally, I’ve enjoyed Christmas services at St. John United Methodist Church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and Our Lady of Guadalupe co-cathedral, especially the midnight Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe.
2. Read Luke 1 and 2 together with a group.
It’s a story where both chapters are important. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a wonderful film to watch on Christmas. YouTube has the poignant part where Linus recites the passage from Luke 2 for Charlie Brown to restore his faith in what Christmas is all about. Charles Schulz insisted this be included in the film.
3. Make snow angels outside with someone you love.
In doing so, remember the significant role of the angels of the Christmas narrative in Matthew and Luke.
4. Attend midnight Mass if you’ve never done so.
Like Easter, midnight Mass is one of the highpoints of the Catholic church year. Held at midnight, it rings in the true spirit of Christmas. Regardless of your faith, you’ll appreciate this special event. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church also has a service starting at 11 p.m., which culminates with candles and Eucharist at the stroke of midnight.
5. Invite a friend, regardless of religious persuasion, to join you at a service.
You’d do the same for them if they invited you to a meaningful service in their personal life. It goes both ways.
6. Extend yourself to the ‘beatitudes people.’
You know, the ones Jesus spoke of during his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, revilers and evil speakers. There are ways to reach out to every one of these. For example, there are many examples of the persecuted these days, such as Syrian refugees.
7. Ask any number of charities now if you and your family could help.
The Salvation Army, Bean’s Cafe, Catholic Social Services, Lutheran Social Services, Brother Francis Shelter, Downtown Soup Kitchen, AWAIC, Gospel Rescue Mission, Food Bank of Alaska and many others can make use of your monetary and other assistance at this time of year.
8. Share memories of Christmases past with friends and family.
Many of these memories are stories of hope and meaning that may die unless shared and maybe recorded for posterity. StoryCorps is a wonderful way to record these memories of a friend or loved one, which may otherwise disappear. Storycorps.org has an app available to download to make this easy.
9. Consider a monetary gift to an Alaska-based relief and development project in someone’s name.
Alaska Sudan Medical Project (alaskasudan.org) is one such worthy cause in South Sudan that is saving and changing lives in many ways. So is the Malawi Children’s Village (malawichildrensvillage.org). Both are spearheaded or strongly supported by Alaska physicians.
10. Call a long-lost friend to reach out in love.
Giving the gift of love is a virtually cost-free gift with huge dividends. Using Google or Facebook can facilitate your search.
Here’s my hope that God’s peace rests with you and your family as you celebrate the true experience of Christmas.
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.
The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser.