1. Don’t get mad at people when they wish you “Happy Holidays.” I’m not sure who decided that anger is the right Christian response to a polite greeting from a stranger. I say “Happy Holidays” all the time. Is it because I’m a politically correct, overly emotional, too-sensitive, mamby-pamby, liberal pinko who hates Christmas and wants to hang an Obama Tree in my living room? Maybe, but I’m only a few of those things (I’m not telling which). I just think it is a nice thing to say. People that are looking for Christ at the check-out register of Target might be looking in the wrong place. Frankly, I’m not too interested in finding Christ at my daughter’s public school either. Check that. I can find Christ anywhere, but I find it in the heart of my neighbor, not in slogans, signs, or songs.
2. Go to worship. It might sound overly simple, but maybe we can look for Christ in his house. The purpose of worship is to connect with the divine, so look for Christ in the hearts of your brothers and sisters. Find Christ in the songs of the ages. Find Christ in the passing of the peace, in the breaking of the bread, and in hearing the Scriptures read and proclaimed. If you’re not a church-goer, give it a try. Most churches are at their best in the weeks leading up to and on Christmas Eve. There are few moments of the year I enjoy more than singing “Silent Night,” and lifting a candle on Christmas Eve. I’m not going to guarantee that every House of Worship will suit you. The body of Christ has many flaws and scars, yet the presence of Christ can be found in the midst of this imperfection. Then go out into the world and be the presence of Christ for others.
3. Read the Bible. Again, sounds simple. There are a lot of ways to encounter Christ, and one of them is to read the stories of his life. Read the Christmas stories as found in Matthew and Luke. Read about Jesus’ ministry and discover what he said, who he loved, where he went, and what he did. Allow the Sermon on the Mount to challenge your life. Allow the parables to challenge the way you think of the world. Discover the radical strangeness that is the Kingdom of God. Be like a tree planted by the waters, and delight in the stories of Jesus. Then maybe his birth will mean something more.
4. Volunteer. Give your time to a cause that is meaningful. Use your talents, skills, and passion for something larger than yourself. Love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God. Find a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a clothes closet, or a shelter that needs help. Sign up with the Boys and Girls Club. Offer to teach a class at your church. Volunteer to read to kids at your local elementary school. Then after Christmas is over, keep doing it.
5. Shop fair trade. Buy products you can feel good about. Support economic justice by making sure that the people that created the products you buy are paid a fair wage. There is a shop in downtown Davenport I buy a lot of stuff from called SIS International Shop. Equal Exchange is another great company that I love to support. Ten Thousand Villages is a wider chain with some great merchandise as well.
6. Buy gifts that will improve relationships, not just add to clutter. A few years ago my brother, sister, our spouses, and I decided that we weren’t going to buy each other presents. Instead we gave our parents a night with the grandkids, and the six of us went to dinner and bowling. I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I’d like, so I cherish that night we shared much more than any t-shirt or book that they might have gotten me. Last year my daughter got a big Lego Star Wars set for Christmas. It was great, but the best part of that gift were the hours that we spent together working on it.
7. Make one of these. I could buy a cheap box with terrible chocolate to pop out each day leading up to Christmas, or I could make this. The Advent calendar of children’s books is an amazing idea I’ve seen from a couple of people on Facebook. I hope I take the time to make the latter. I’m afraid I’m going to end up buying the former.
8. Go on a prayer run. This is a term I first heard from a follower on my Facebook page. She told me that while she runs, she prays. She solicits prayer concerns from friends from church, and takes them with her as she goes on a run. Sometimes she listens to the Bible as she runs. I’m hoping she adds the Pulpit Fiction podcast to her playlist too. The point is, she’s improving her physical health while at the same time strengthening her spiritual life. She told me recently that she ran her first 5K. I’m so glad she shared her joy with me on the FB page. Now I share her idea with all of you. You can also participate in the 2014 Advent Run to Bethlehem. The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 103.2 miles. Last year, 23 different people made a total of 67 entries in our Advent Run. There were entries from 14 different states plus London, England. We went a total of 255 miles. Join in the virtual run to see if we can cover that distance as a team between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here is the link to submit your run. It will open on Thanskgiving Day, 2014.
9. Throw a Baby Shower for Jesus. There is a women’s shelter near you. There is a scared teen mother you know. There is a Children’s Home that is struggling to stretch their budget. Invite people to a Baby Shower for Jesus. Have games, food, and decorations just like a regular baby shower. Invite everyone to bring gifts just like at a regular shower. Then give them all away to someone in need, and remember that Jesus said, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:40; CEB) And if the idea of throwing yet another party before Christmas is too daunting, then wait until Epiphany (January 6, 2014), the day we remember the coming of the wise men to bring gifts to the baby Jesus.
10. Advocate for Justice. The unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived. Mary gave birth among animals and filth. There was no professional to help her. She was probably very young. The fact that she survived the birth is a miracle that few name. This Christmas, name that miracle. Tell the stories of the thousands of women who give birth in similar conditions every day. There is a natural connection between the need to advocate for maternal health and family planning and the coming of Christ. I wrote this reflection after I went to Washington to meet in Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. Understand though, that you don’t need to go to Washington. Write or call your local Congressional office. They pay attention to what people talk to them about.
11. Tweet #BeChristInChristmas. Share ways that you are being Christ to someone else this holiday season. Use the power of social media to share the good news of Christians being like Christ. Last year there were a few people that participated and shared some great ideas that included sending cards to soldiers, shopping for an Angel Tree, and singing in nursing homes. I’m hoping that this idea can grow, and we can all be inspired to do something for mercy, justice, and kindness. Be the hands, feet, heart, mind, and mouth of Christ this Christmas. And please, have a very happy holiday!
12 Listen to this song by Christopher Grundy.