So why would my true love want two turtledoves and three French hens? Are French hens better than English or American hens? And how long will the eight maids-a-milking milk? And if my true love gives me seven swans-a-swimming, where would they swim? I don’t even have a pool, let alone a lake.
We all know the traditional song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The tune is used today to lampoon and parody many things and various people. But the original song, first published in England in 1780, has proven to be something of a prophecy of Christmases to come. The storyline is simple enough. A man gives to his beloved an array of gifts that become increasingly more extravagant and less useful, culminating with twelve drummers drumming. And so the die was cast for the commercialization of a day celebrating the birth of Jesus.
As you read this, Christmas is just around the corner. In about seven weeks we’ll be asking one another, Did you have a good Christmas? How was your Christmas? What’d y’do for Christmas? Or perhaps we’ll be a bit more probing: How’s your after-Christmas diet coming along? Did you survive your visiting in-laws? Is your VISA bill like mine!?!?
Christmas, of course, isn’t just a holiday; it’s a season. A season that we both enjoy and endure. We attempt to make merry, but too often the season means misery. So, with November underway, it’s a good time to plan how to turn the Christmas rush we endure into an Advent season we will enjoy. To this end I suggest we rethink the twelve days of Christmas. In fact, listed below are twelve gifts that might make your Christmastime a season to savor rather than a rush to suffer through.
1. Prepare to read the Christmas Story by studying some of the Scriptures that look forward to the coming Messiah. Read Isaiah 9:1-2, 7:14, 9:1-7, 11:1-10.
2. Read the Christmas Story. The longest New Testament version of the birth of Christ is found in Luke 1–2. Read and ponder these chapters.
3. Read the other Christmas Story. Matthew gives us his slightly different version of the same story. Read the first two chapters of his gospel account, which is the first book in the New Testament.
4. Set a limit on your gift giving. Sit down with yourself or, if you are married, with your mate and ask these important questions: How much should I spend on Christmas gifts? What dollar amount would reflect both good stewardship before the God who owns everything and at the same time express my love for special friends and family?
5. Shop early and shop sparingly. Okay, I’m a guy, and, for me, spending time at the mall is worse than having surgery without anesthesia. Nevertheless, shopping malls should be approached with a bit of fear and trembling. The message of the mall is to spend, buy, and consume. But these messages have nothing to do with Christmas and everything to do with a materialistic culture that thrives on promoting the lusts of what the Bible calls our flesh.
6. Decide that when a gift comes your way, you need not repay. After all, Christmas is really about receiving, isn’t it? It’s about receiving the ultimate gift from God, the gift of Christ. So let’s not shop to pay back friends who surprised us with an unexpected gift. You need not rush out to the store feeling resentful that so-and-so bought you something. Simply say, “Thank you” and leave it at that.
7. Listen to Handel’s Messiah in one sitting. Watch The Nutcracker on DVD.
8. Re-gift. Do you know about re-gifting? It’s kind of recycling with a purpose. The idea is to pass along a gift you’ve received but don’t need or want. In the past few years I have been given a few re-gifted gifts, and I have loved them. Instead of finding them insulting, I’ve been honored that someone was thoughtful enough to pass the gift on to me.
9. Get out your calendar. Schedule some times to be quiet and do little in the months of November and December.
10. Curtail your expectations. As far back as I can remember, I’ve heard people say, “Christmas is a hard time” and “I’m looking forward to January because Christmas is kind of depressing.” Too often the season reminds us of what we don’t have. We see a commercial on TV featuring a family with seven children sitting around a warm fire while the snow falls gently in the night (all this to sell an electric razor or a line of clothing at Sears). As we watch, we are reminded of our own fractured family that doesn’t look at all like the one in the advertisement. And, yes, we get kind of blue. So, as we look forward to Christmas, let’s reduce our expectations and be thankful for our blessings. Let’s focus on what we do have. If we know and love God, each of us has the greatest gift in the universe: we have Jesus Christ, and we are waiting for his return.
11. Celebrate Advent. Santa Barbara Community Church is once again going to devote four Sundays to the Advent season. Together, we will look at Scriptures, ponder them, and prepare our hearts for the One who comes at Christmas. So give yourself a gift this Christmas: come worship with God’s people. Plan to go to the Dave LeMieux concert (December 3 at SBCC), see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever(December 17 in our Sanctuary), attend a Westmont Christmas performance at First Presbyterian Church (December 3 and 4), or go listen to Handel’s Messiah at the Granada.
12. Rejoice! Christ is born! Celebrate Christmas!