What aspect of Christ’s birth stirs your heart most? That the Lord of All was born in a humble stable, surrounded by livestock? That He was born in obscurity, His true identity recognized by so few? For myself, I am profoundly moved by the fact that Christ was born into a family.

Considering all that Jesus planned to accomplish, would it not have been more efficient for Jesus to appear on Earth as a full-grown man and begin His ministry immediately? Certainly He could have. But Jesus did not consider His childhood years a waste or an inconvenience.

I marvel that long before He was recognized as Lord of All, Jesus was content to be called "son" and "eldest brother." And I imagine He delighted in these roles – in rough-housing with siblings and swapping news with cousins, in patiently learning alongside His father. Surely the One who crafted the universe didn’t need lessons in how to shape wood into a plow! But I think He raced to the workbench with joy, because He cherished those moments with dad.

For me, one of the most wonderful mysteries of Christmas is how Jesus embraced family life, forever conferring His blessing on the relationships we build elbow to elbow around the kitchen table, where we know and are fully known, and are loved regardless.

Isn’t it sadly ironic, then, that our relationships with loved ones are often the first casualty of our Christmas celebrations? Harried parents and over-stimulated kids are not a recipe for "Peace on Earth and mercy mild!"

Making space for family

This Christmas, why not determine to honour Christ by safeguarding your most precious relationships? One of the surest ways to achieve this is to not just wish each other peace, but to actually schedule some peace into your Christmas. Here are some ideas that may work for you:

If you have carloads of guests arriving for dinner, you need some undisturbed time to focus on the preparations. Enlist hubby, grandparents or a dear aunty to take the kids outdoors on a special Christmas errand. Send them out to gather evergreens and berries for the most beautiful doorstep display ever, to hang pinecones coated in peanut butter and birdseed in your backyard as a "gift" to the birds, or to make ice lanterns to light up your front path. Remember: you are not being selfish; you are honouring Christ by preserving a positive state of mind that will bless others in turn.

Don’t cram your agenda for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day almost as full as the kids’ Christmas stockings. Instead, plan a more relaxed schedule that spreads out the more "intense" large-group gatherings over several days. If you have young children, plan to spend only a half-day with relatives, and keep the remainder of the day for some low-key "just us" time. Surprise the kids with some Christmas-themed books – either new or borrowed from the library – then snuggle up by the fireside to read together. Alternatively, stock up on some black felt and lengths of coloured fabric, and create your own "snowman kit." Fashion the hat from the black felt by tracing around a large, round dish to make the brim. Use a smaller dish for the top of the hat. Remember your ninth-grade math? You’ll need to multiply the diameter of the smaller dish by 3.14 to find the length of felt you’ll need to reach around the smaller circle, to form the cylinder of the hat, but allow a little extra for overlap along the seam. While you’re working on the hat, let the kids glue squares of coloured fabric to the scarf to make it a multi-coloured wonder.

Nothing matches the serenity of a snowy winter scene, so don’t let elaborate meal plans trap you at home. Make sure you have some simple "pack and go" meals or snacks at the ready so you can enjoy the outdoors as soon as the weather cooperates. If you can catch a clear night, don’t miss the opportunity to drive to a quiet, snow-blanketed spot and sing carols by candlelight, gazing up at the stars. Anchor each candle in a plastic mug with a little hot wax so melting wax won’t burn hands. Take a portable CD player or use your car’s CD player for backup if you wish, but be sure to start with "O holy night, the stars are brightly shining . . ."

Perhaps you can’t afford the whole night off to go carolling – but even a short break in the fresh air can be revitalizing. How about simply taking the kids out for a hike? Your mission: to find the most perfect sticks, cones and stones to complete your snowman kit. Alternatively, take along a digital camera, and see who can capture the most interesting winter snapshot. Or perhaps spend some time building a Dr. Suess-style "snow village" on your front lawn – complete with whimsically wacky cottages that look slightly structurally unsound! Add a few battery-powered tea candles in the windows for a warmly-glowing, "lived-in" look.

While the rest of the family is enjoying a Christmas movie, steal away to enjoy some quiet moments alone with Christ. Do take time to gather by the Christmas tree for some special devotions as a family, too. Read the Nativity story together, then keep kids’ minds focused on the reading by posing a few questions that stir their imagination. Some questions you might start with are, "Do you think King Herod expected the ‘new king’ to be born in a stable? Where might he have looked for Jesus? What do you think the shepherds thought when they saw the sky filled with angels? How do you think their experience altered the remainder of their lives?" Don’t forget to ask the kids if they have any questions about Jesus’ birth. You’ll want to have a movie camera ready to record your discussion!

Grudges and unforgiveness can cast a shadow over your celebration, but Christmas is also the perfect time to make amends. Take a few moments to prayerfully examine your heart, asking Christ to illuminate actions or habits that frustrate others in the family. Then write a note addressed to that person, expressing your desire for forgiveness and determination to change. Slip your note beneath the baby Jesus in your Nativity set, or in the appropriate Christmas stocking. Your action may just catch on with other members of the family, ushering in the most blessed, peace-filled Christmas your family has experienced yet!

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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