The first Christmas toy catalog arrived in my mailbox one week before Halloween. Ugh, I thought. Really? I glanced through its glossy pages not to jumpstart my holiday shopping but to confirm precisely what it is I am working to avoid.
Excess spending. Excess waste. Excess stress.
Each year I strive to be intentional about how our family celebrates Christmas. Often my plans go awry and I go on a last-minute spending blitz, worried that my husband and I haven’t done enough. Then, come Christmas morning, I discover that we didn’t need those final stocking stuffers or doodads after all and wish I hadn’t bought them.
But this year, as reports of people in dire need continue to flood the news ways, I want to be even more intentional about spending less on our own celebration so that others may have more to celebrate. How can I truly honor Christ in Christmas? I asked. The answer led me to re-examine the second chapter of Luke: the narrative of the birth of Christ.
For this first week of Advent, and for the four weeks that follow, I’d like to share five practices I discovered that I hope will bless your family too.
The first Christmas was a family occasion, but not an easy one. It began with hardship involving a forced journey. “All went to their own towns to be registered,” Luke 2:3 says. Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem wasn’t voluntary. A Roman census required them to travel to the ancestral home of Joseph’s oldest living relative—likely his father or grandfather.
And here was Mary, pregnant, and compelled to make this journey. On NPR this week, I heard of the thousands of Libyan refugees making their way to Italian shores, arriving half frozen in little rubber rafts. Many others are missing, the unaccounted for dead.
While the refugee crisis is not new, what I didn’t realize was that many of these people are forced onto these rafts by human traffickers who extort money from family members, using threats and demands. Their suffering is real. And it is not just their problem. As a follower of Christ, their problems are my problems too. Their needs become my needs, their burdens my burdens.
So instead of buying into the Black Friday spending bonanza, spend this first weekend of Advent reflecting on Mary and Joseph’s journey. Involuntary. Arduous. And yet one that would have ultimately reconnected them with family. Through Christ, we too are connected with estranged family: the family of God.
Intentionally make this first week of Advent about reconnecting with family also. Plan a trip. Write personal cards. Or make a phone call to embrace your own distant or estranged family members. But remember that in Christ we are one family – one family that is called to share what we have with those who have not.
Then reconsider what you and your loved ones really need. One more gizmo under the tree? Or one more weary traveler warmed and fed and encouraged along their way.
To make sure that you don’t miss an Advent post, please subscribe.
Meadow Rue Merrill writes and reflects on God’s presence in her everyday life from a little house in the big woods of Mid-coast Maine. Her memoir, “Redeeming Ruth,” releases in May 2017.