To close out my series about celebrating Jesus' birthday, I offer this list of a few things that have made our last few Christmases really special. I know that there's nothing super original here, but I always enjoy hearing what others are doing, so maybe you will too!
-kicking-off our Christmas season with Operation Christmas Child in mid-November: We've had the joy of purchasing Christmas gifts for children growing up in poverty for three years now. Meg did it with us starting two years ago, shopping for gifts for some far-away girl about her age. This year, Matthew joined the fun, shopping for a little boy he will probably never meet. (And much to my surprise, he did great with it!) This year, I was able to prepare the kids by praying with them for the children who would receive our boxes. We did this every day during the week leading up to our shopping trip. We also read stories from the Samaritan's Purse PrayerPoint magazine about how God has used OCC in years past to draw children to Himself. Then we set out for Target--the whole family. We came home, packed up our boxes, and went together to drop them off at a local church. And we recently got an email update from Samaritan's Purse, informing us that our boxes made their way to children somewhere in Peru. Too cool! I can't recommend this ministry too highly. I just love being a very small part of this.
-celebrating Advent in a Christ-centered way: Anticipation is everything. We try to build our kids excitement for Jesus' birthday by spending every evening in December singing about Him, reading about Him, and looking at picture books and nativity scenes that tell His story. I love how eager they are to put the Baby Jesus figure on our Advent calendar. Every night they're hoping that tonight will be the night for Jesus!
-reading the Christmas story every day: I read about a method of Scripture memorization that basically entails just reading a passage over and over again, multiple times a day, until the reader and the listeners start to know it by heart. So this December, during my morning Bible time with the kids, I read Luke 2 to them every day. I don't think anyone really memorized it, but we sure did get well acquainted with it. And the kids did not get bored with the repetition! In fact, they seemed excited to return to the same chapter each day.
-serving together as a family: "For even the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve." (Mark 10:45) What better birthday present can we give to Jesus than seeking to be like him, giving our time and strength for the sake of His Kingdom? For our family, with our very little people, serving together usually looks like releasing Dave to spend the whole month at church. At home, we stay busy and pray for Daddy, and for the people who will attend the services for which he's preparing. I look forward to the day when we can all be more hands-on--singing in choirs or greeting guests or maybe... working behind the scenes with the tech teams??
-giving our kids opportunities to get excited about giving: We have much room for growth in this area, but one thing we've enjoyed is helping the kids shop for other members of our family. Two years ago, I started taking the kids on a special shopping trip where they get to pick out gifts for Daddy--anything they want (within a certain price range, since they're spending our money, for now). This year, Dave took them on a second trip to buy gifts for Mommy and Esme. Having something to give during gift our exchanges seems to be quite thrilling for our Meg and Matthew and I love the fact that it breaks them out of "What's next for me?" even for a few moments.
-making a wish list: I keep a running wishlist via Amazon--you know, a list of books and movies and various items that I'd like to own but probably won't buy for myself. But this year, for the first time, when people asked me what I would like, I also started mentioning some of the ministries that I love. "Hey, here's my wish list, but it would also really bless me if you considered making a donation to Compassion International, or to so-and-so's adoption fund." And I can't even begin to tell you what a blessing it was to get a gift like that. It truly was better than a whole mountain of stuff.
And here are some links that have inspired and encouraged me with regard to Christmas:
-Megan offers one way to simplify gift-giving
-An idea for a fun family tradition from Stacy
-How Stacy's family does birthday presents for Jesus
-How and why Ann's family does birthday presents for Jesus
-Sharaya's post on We Are Grafted In about stuff, Christmas, and how her family started "Spend Less/Give More" this Christmas
-My Aunt Julia's post that gave us the idea for our birthday presents for Jesus
-Jonalee's post featuring the Advent Conspiracy videos
-Jonalee's thoughts about Christmas future
-Trinity's family's Extreme Home Christmas
I've no doubt that the world wide web is chock full of many other helpful articles and ideas, but those are the ones that I've found so far.
Lastly, if you've not read Noel Piper's book Treasuring God in Our Traditions, I commend it to you! It's a rich source of wisdom on celebrating Jesus' birthday as well as many other occasions!
And that, my friends, is likely to be the last you'll hear from me about Christmas for quite some time.