Let me bring you into some of my holiday challenges. Thanksgiving is close at hand, but we haven’t yet heard back from any of my extended family we invited to join us this year. I’m sure they are busy with their own holiday challenges and have not yet realized Thanksgiving is next week. So, we don’t know how many we’ll have. It could be eleven or twenty-four. While not everyone comes over for Thanksgiving, our extended family has grown too large to fit all 35 of us in any of our houses. This year we’ve had to rent a banquet room at my dad’s retirement facility.
Then, we just got the bill for repairs on a car. A grand total of $1500. Ouch! There goes our buffer, just before the holidays.
Then, there are all the decisions we’ve got to make around the holidays. Which day should we pick to celebrate Christmas as an extended family? Should we do a gift exchange where everyone participates or three different ones based on age? Now that we are celebrating Christmas in a banquet room should we pay for a catered Christmas meal? A flurry of emails later and, we decide that option is too expensive. So now what? We don’t have access to a kitchen. Do we do hot food in crock pots or cold food on trays?
As for our immediate family, we’ve only begun to discuss our Christmas day plans. Three of my children are married, so we have to factor in visits to their in-laws. Exchanging names has a whole set of rules. You can’t pick your spouse’s name, nor can you pick the same person you had last year. My wife and I need to plan a time to shop for gifts, and oh yes, what will we do this year to ensure we keep Christ central during the holiday season? Will we do an advent devotional? Will we go to our church Christmas concert, and if so which performance?
I’m sure that my holiday challenges are a bit different than yours, but we all have them. If you have a large family like I do, you resonate with my list. However, if you are single without family, or grieving the loss of a close family member, the holidays pose a completely different challenge. The holidays for some are lonely and filled with grief.
Here are a few pointers that can help you survive the challenges of the holidays:
It is so easy to forget that Jesus is the reason we celebrate. The whole point of Christmas is remembering the message of the angels to the shepherds on a hillside. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10–12 ESV)
Jesus entered a broken world to conquer our greatest enemies—sin and death. He died on the cross in our place and rose from the grave that we too might one day rise and live forever with him on a recreated earth heaven where all trouble, sorrow, and challenge will be done away with. One day, we’ll all be together, and it will be Christmas every day! We’ll feast at the banquet table of the Lord, all family present. No one sick, with no challenges to negotiate!
The best way to survive the challenges of the holidays is to face them with the courage that they are all temporary and will one day pass.
We’ve got to translate the love we’ve received from Christ into love for one another—in the midst of the challenges. John said it like this—“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our selfishness is the greatest robber of holiday happiness. Going into the holidays with the hope to love and bless others can transform the biggest challenge into an opportunity to bless.
Consider inviting another family to join you for Thanksgiving or Christmas, especially folks who don’t have extended family. There is something special about gathering with others over the Thanksgiving/Christmas season.
Set your hope in Heaven
We frontload the holidays with expectations they can’t deliver. Christmas can be a joyful time, but it will never substitute for heaven. It is so much easier to deal with the light and momentary challenges of earth when your expectations are properly set toward eternity. Paul said it this way: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–5).
Whatever your challenges over the Holidays, whether they be many or few, keep your focus on these three pointers: Remember Christ, love people, and set your hope in heaven. Oh, I just remembered, we need to plan to get the decorations out of the attic and figure out what to do with all the new grandkids toys we now have stacked where the tree goes.