Christmas is just a day away. It’s hard to believe that! Yet it’s impossible to ignore the bright lights and familiar melodies of Christmas that are everywhere. For me this time of year generates mixed feelings.
I love the days leading up to Christmas, the anticipation of fun & tasty family traditions and restful moments of being home with family. I love the numerous ways we celebrate the great promises we have in Christ. From the carol services to the incredible smells you experience as you walk through a Christmas market. And what make these celebratory moments great are the people we get to share them with!
But these very same moments and people can be the source of Christmas pain. When we share Christmas with friends and family it can’t help but make us feel nostalgic of the joys we’ve had before and with whom we shared those joys. Inevitably thoughts of those missing this year will come to mind. For me, it’s talking with grandma in her kitchen as she makes all kinds of pies for after Christmas dinner. I wasn’t much help in the kitchen, I just watched and drooled over the pies already made, while she cooked and told stories of yesteryear. I miss her pies, and I miss her even more!
The friends and family members who are no longer with us aren’t necessarily the only source of pain and sorrow at Christmas. The holidays can be a great source of stress and tension because of the very people we love being with. Especially when members of your family don’t see eye to eye on things like religion and politics. These differences aren’t just abstract concepts but through time shape the texture of our individual lives when we are apart. When these different textures are in the same room, friction can occur.
But let’s face it, we can agree with people about the most fundamental things in life and still have conflict. Especially at this time of year where stress to make Christmas special and/or personality differences create tension. Familiarity and history with those we are celebrating the holidays may even cause us to come to conflict sooner.
So what do we do about the mixed feelings of Christmas, especially those feelings that may lead to conflict? Please don’t think I want you to avoid people in order to avoid tension in the holidays. Relationships are what make us who are; they are the joy of life.
These moments, like all moments in life, are an opportunity to love others as God has loved us.
I’ve heard and learned some great tactics to have love grow for people around us. One is to pray for God to give eyes to see others they way he sees them. They are clearly special to him; so special in fact that the Father sent his Son to save the world. Everyone around us are wonderfully made and are special, we just need God to help to see this. This is a powerful way to engage God and others. You’re asking God because you can’t do this on your own and you’re asking to have your heart align with his, prayers I’m confident he wants us to pray! Prayers I’m certain will change your life.
Recently I came across another perspective on loving others in relationship, which I think will be beneficial for Christmas and in everyday moments. Augustine’s (354-430 AD) ultimate goal in his preaching was to have his congregation make God their greatest affection. He understood that the battle in this life lies in the heart, that in our fallen nature our priorities are all wrong and we must find joy in Jesus above all else.
Even in our relationships Augustine taught that our love for God was the source of love for others. When speaking of friendship Augustine said, “For you truly love that friend, by loving God in your friend. Either because he is in him, or that he might be in him” (Confessions, 4.7 in Sanlon, Augustine’s Theology of Preaching, 163).
Did you catch that? Augustine believed that God resided or could reside in those around him. He knew this from Romans 5:5, the Holy Spirit is the gift of grace who unites us to Christ. Therefore, to love others in our lives is to love God that’s in them. God must be so prior to any other affection that he is even the motivation to love those we love. Even those we are to cherish we do so because God is in them or possibly in them. And the same Spirit who unites us to Christ is the Spirit and love that we are united to one another.
Even in moments of conflict, if we have this perspective the Spirit may produce his fruit because we’ll have the mind of the Spirit. Our Christmases will have the Spirit of giving, patience, and humility, things that can often be missing even thought we’re surrounded by other gifts.
In many ways it’s an abstract thought, but here’s the important bit. As we spend time with those we love over Christmas, the celebration of our God’s humility and love, ask God to show us himself in those we love. Could you imagine what Christmas would be like for us if we loved God like this? We may still feel the pain of those missing this Christmas but we’ll enjoy those God has given us this Christmas far more than we could imagine.