This Christmas has provided some heightened activity for Melburnians only recently released from a prolonged COVID lockdown. Record pre-Christmas travel, booming Summer house sales after Winter deferrals, and the unleashing of stockpiled savings have all accentuated the usual December commercialism. By contrast, unplannable carols events have not all been substituted, and churches have only gathered again in recent weeks. To avoid Christ being squeezed out of Christmas, here are some last-minute tips that might make the most of what is left of the season with a significant focus on its major message.
1. Reconnect with your local church – For some, there has been no return since lockdown and for others it has been much longer. A spiritual slide is no more intended than a garden full of weeds, but overturning any neglect needs our best effort. And a healthy spiritual life is lived in community – Christianity is not an individualised faith. A church family offers us accountability, context, and diversity in belonging. Maybe this Christmas can mark the start of a new commitment, one that shows your friends, and maybe your kids, that it is no mere optional extra to be grounded in a spiritual family.
2. Invest in smaller gatherings, and perhaps more of them – Smaller services or groups can engage people better and they typically also engage more people. Several small services, perhaps run by different volunteers, can make use of a simple setting tailored for each gathering. Live music, a quality online compilation (with a streaming licence), or even a prayer service, can all be complemented by a quality reflection in an energetic and punchy one-hour gathering. It’s a time of year that needs excellence, rather than wind-down. Community dinners with gift giveaways already run in some churches, and existing groups of friends might help to serve a new invite list simply made up of those who gather over the Christmas weekend. Consider, too, hosting a small group of friends over January to re-establish new commitments or build new connections during the less busy holiday period.
3. Commit to some significant Christmas generosity – Churches often organise special humanitarian or justice projects and the last-minute use of email and social media can encourage an online response or an in-person contribution at a Christmas service. People can make a big difference when their commitments are made collectively, but they can also give individually. I recently led a church that arranged an entire primary school education for a Filipino child for just $600 or a water purifier for a Cambodian family at $30. Various gift possibilities usually exist already and just need to be harnessed by the power of mobilisation to achieve more than what most individuals might consider possible.
4. Think ‘one more’ – Can your family make Christmas a little nicer for someone who has no family this weekend? Perhaps a relational conversation (even if set up through a community contact or friend) could generate the offer of a seat at your Christmas dinner this year, with a spare gift thrown in as you extend your family for a day. Never underestimate the long-term connections that can be built by starting with a small but intentional first step. Of course, the smallest of these can be to seize the moment to talk with someone about faith this week, given a key doorway to such a conversation is the very fact that Christmas focuses our thoughts on family and friends and the bigger purposes and values in life.
5. Start a new habit – Target some time over Christmas (even on Boxing Day) to consider what you will do differently in the year ahead. It has been a great time for me to organise my year’s daily devotional prayer time, either by writing up the entry headers in a journal, or selecting a year’s bible readings while I also set up my diary to fit prayer into my current yearly routines. When we fail to plan, the old saying says, we plan to fail. Good intentions for 2021 can start with the memory hook that the coming weekend offers and it just might be that an hour of purposeful praise using some songs selected on Youtube could actually inspire the mood for change.
It might sound a little corny or passé to speak of Jesus being ‘the reason for the season.’ True, the early Christians repurposed a secular festival to create the Church’s December 25 traditions. But why not take a similar approach this year? Perhaps we could all benefit from choosing just one little extra commitment this Christmas for our own good and that of others, and not just for the sake of tradition.
May this coming Friday offer the most special and sacred time for you and your family. It has been a long and tiring 2020 for many. Let’s ride a great wave of momentum into what will surely be a great year ahead, one that might just be a little better for the actions you sow in the coming days.