It’s Better to Underprepare for Christmas
Every year it’s the same hopeful mantra…
This year, Christmas is going to be different—I’m going to find a way to slow down and focus on “the reason for the season.” I’ll find the time to really focus on Jesus…
And then, with a determined face, we work hard to make it happen. And we don’t get very far before the current of the season overwhelms the momentum of our convictions. We’re swimming as hard as we can, but we’re swimming upstream. And then we’re forced to make excuses for our inability to get on top of things, or admit that we don’t have the will to make it happen. In the worst-case scenario, we kick off a cycle of shame that underscores what a screw-up/victim we really are.
Well, “preparing for the Christmas season” is way over-rated as a goal—it’s better for our relationship with Jesus to “underprepare” for Advent, instead. I mean, in any other intimate relationship in our life, we’d find it offensive if our beloved repeatedly told us how hard it is to pay attention to us, or what an inconvenience it is to stop long enough to listen to us, or how easy it is to habitually take us for granted. This cycle of vowing to do better, then failing in the exact same way every time, frames our relationship with Jesus as a “should,” which drives a stake through the heart of intimacy. Underpreparing means we invite Jesus into our holiday momentum—into the nooks and crannies of our double-duty life, leading up to Christmas.
A story from my book The Jesus-Centered Life will highlight what I’m suggesting…
Researchers working for Volkswagen in Stockholm, Sweden, were searching to find ways to influence people to be more physically active in their everyday life. Like the vows we make to “get better” with our efforts to focus on Jesus more during the Advent season, we all know that efforts to get in better shape follow a similar cycle of shame. So the Swedes came up with an inventive way to get people exercising that capitalized on their natural inclinations and momentum. At subway stops throughout the city, you can ride the escalator up to the street level or climb the stairs. Most people plant themselves on the escalator and let it do the work. So, working all night, a swarming team of technicians transformed the stairs leading out of the Odenplan subway stop into a giant functioning piano keyboard. The steps, mapped to look exactly like the progression of black and white keys on a real piano, each produced the sound of a corresponding musical note when stepped on. Then the planners mounted video cameras at the base of the stairs so they could record what happened when commuters showed up in the morning.
Travelers first stopped, surprised by what they saw, and then began experimenting with the stairs. Many not only climbed the stairs, they also hopped around on them as they tried to “play” music instead of trudging their way up. Stair-climbing was transformed from work into a playful experience. Volkswagen researchers found that the “musical stairs” diverted 66 percent more people than normal onto the staircase and away from the escalator. They managed to entice commuters into a “fitness” behavior they wouldn't have considered otherwise. They were not shoulding themselves to choose a healthier option; they were caught up in an experience that made them forget about the work of physical fitness.
And here’s how we can do the same, as we enter into the Christmas season…
- Play with Jesus—Instead of compartmentalizing your relationship with Jesus, simply invite Him into the things you’re already doing. If you’re out shopping for Christmas gifts at a mall, for example, make it a playful connection to Jesus by asking Him to show you an inexpensive gift that He knows will delight someone. Then put it in a gift bag and write a little note that says “A little gift for you, from someone who appreciates you.” As you’re leaving the mall, walk through the Food Court, asking Jesus to give you the right opportunity to give your gift. Set it on a table when the occupants won’t notice, then walk away.
- A word a day—Every day until Christmas, pause to come up with a different word that expresses Jesus’ beauty. For example: “Grace” or “Humility” or “Fierceness” or “Passion” or “Tenderness”… Ask Him for help in choosing the right word each day. Don’t make this a big-deal, intense prayer thing. Just ask, then receive whatever word comes to you. It’s that simple. Then, as you go through your day, when you’re in-between things, simply thank Him, using your word of the day, over and over under your breath: “Tenderness—thank you for how tender you are, Jesus.”
- Puddle-jumping—Because it’s hard to find the time, or slow down your pace, to sink deeply into Jesus through conventional Bible study, try something that takes little time and effort, but exercises your dependence on Him. Every day, simply ask Him to give you the name of one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and then a chapter and verse. Whatever gospel/chapter/verse comes up in your mind, simply flip there and ask Jesus to show you His heart—what He’s really like at His core—as you mull what you read. Read the context around your chosen verse if you want, but confine your mulling to the one verse, just so it’s easy to remember. We skip over a lot of small details about Jesus as if they were mud puddles—instead, stop to wallow in a new mud puddle every day.
These are three examples of under-preparing for Christmas—and that’s what they are, simply examples… The idea here is to diligently resist making the pursuit of Jesus during this holiday time something that feels like work… Make it play, in the gap times of your day, or while you’re already doing something else. Invite Jesus into your little moments. As Eugene Peterson says, simply stay attentive to Him—that’s it. Children love to play, and their “creativity” doesn’t feel like work to them because they find delight in play. Playing with Jesus during this season will lead to delight, and that will energize you, not sap you of your strength. If you come up with your own ways to play, please shoot us a note to tell us what you’ve done… We’d love to hear about it.
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