During this busy time of year when there are so many demands on our lives, how do we keep our priorities straight and our focus on Christ during the holidays? How do we give the gift of hospitality to our family and friends without getting caught up in the world’s view of what hospitality should look like? How do we make gift-giving a gift of love and a symbol of the greatest gift—God’s Son?
These lessons are not the result of long years of doing it all right but rather years of doing much of it wrong. Learning from my mistakes, I offer you some simple solutions the Lord has taught me as I have given my holidays to Him.
Where do we begin? We begin 2,000 years ago. Luke records the story this way: “And it came to pass in those days...that she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6, 7).
Have you ever thought about what it was really like for Mary and Joseph on that night? We are so used to our handsome, hand-painted nativity scenes and our beautiful picture books depicting the birth of Christ that reality is distorted in our eyes. Can you imagine giving birth to a baby in a dirty, smelly stable where animals stayed? How distressed Joseph must have been, unable to provide a better place for his wife! Can you even fathom searching for one clean spot where the King of Kings could be brought into the world, where God could enter human history?
Where was hospitality on that first Christmas? Surely someone might have noticed Joseph and his very pregnant wife and felt compassion for them. What about the innkeeper or the other guests? Couldn’t they have given up their lodging for one night? It seems almost inconceivable that no one noticed or cared.
What about us this Christmas season? We know the story, but does it truly make a difference in the way we live? We get so preoccupied with our own needs, our own social calendars, our own distorted ideas of how Christmas should be celebrated that we, too, come face to face with the Christ Child and discover we have no room for Him.
That is where I found myself the Christmas of 1988. I was in bondage to my own distorted ideas of Christmas. I needed to break free, as Beth Moore would say, and make liberty in Christ a reality in my life. But at the time, I didn’t know how.
I grew up in a home where everything was decorated for the holidays. There were lots of presents under the tree. Mother made everything fun, and it all seemed so effortless. Added to those memories were my tendencies toward perfectionism, the pressures I put on myself in my business, and what I thought others expected of me. I found myself under a serious stronghold that needed to be broken. That Christmas Eve, I remember coming in the church sanctuary, climbing the steps to the balcony exhausted and almost collapsing in the pew. My heart was racing, my mind spinning with the preparations and activities. I thought I had given the gift of hospitality for Christmas. I had opened my home for a group to have their annual party. I had invited my husband’s employees to dinner. I had cleaned and dared anyone in the family to mess up a single spot. I had decorated every nook and cranny in the house. I had wrapped dozens of packages with beautiful wrappings and ribbons and addressed several hundred Christmas cards. I had baked and prepared Christmas dinner and was exhausted and empty. I had done it all—except open my heart to Christ for Christmas. Dropping my head, I confessed my sin and asked God for the grace to change. I promised Him that next year would be different.
The following year, I must have been headed down the wrong track, because the Lord knew I needed some help in keeping my promise to Him. Early in December, my business partner, Jean, and I were in a hurry to finish our last delivery and close the office. Too impatient to wait for help, we borrowed my husband’s van and loaded it ourselves. In that delivery I injured a disk in my spine, had severe pain down my leg, and could not walk. To avoid surgery, my doctor insisted I remain flat on my back for three weeks. I realized that God was trying to teach me something and I would be wise to learn the lesson quickly. That year I learned how Christmas should really be celebrated. My family and friends were my gracious teachers.
During my recuperation, some friends came by and stayed for a few minutes. After all, it was Christmas. Others, however, stayed for longer visits and didn’t seem in a hurry to leave. Their shopping list completed, they delivered hospitality—food—to our family and had already delivered gifts to friends. Some left their calendars open to volunteer at church or local agencies, packing Christmas boxes for the Salvation Army or stuffing stockings for the elderly. They taught me to leave time for the unexpected at Christmas. It allowed them to be available to the Lord, ready to be used for His purposes.
That year I had lots of time to pray, to read God’s Word, and to plan for the future. The house was not decorated as it had always been; the gifts were not color-coordinated or beautifully wrapped. But it was one of the best Christmases I could remember because of the celebration in my heart. My life was transformed that Christmas. By God’s grace, I began taking a series of steps that helped me simplify Christmas so I could be available to the Lord when He gave me opportunity.
How do we keep our focus on Christ? A string of P’s is a good way to remember: Pray + Plan + Prepare + Ponder = Peace.
Pray, asking the Lord to give you a vision of how He wants to use you and your family at Christmas.
Plan, writing down specific goals. Make your shopping list early—the day after Christmas is not too early.
Prepare, methodically working through your list and organizing your decorations so they are not a chore to pack and unpack.
Ponder the Scriptures, essential to a Christ-centered Christmas. The devil will do everything to distract you. Don’t give him the victory.
How do we share biblical hospitality without getting caught in the web of the world’s view?
The gift of hospitality is not really an option for Christians. It is a mandate. Begin by reading Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; and 3 John 8. Hospitality has almost become a forgotten Christian virtue. Our homes are gifts of God to be used for Him. For those who find hospitality challenging, remember 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (KJV).
Do not confuse hospitality with entertaining. Karen Mains, author of Open Heart, Open Home, explains the difference: “Entertaining is the source of human pride. It demands perfection, it fosters the urge to impress. It is a rigorous taskmaster which enslaves. It says, ‘I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating, my gourmet cooking. Entertaining is really all about me.’
“Hospitality, on the other hand, is an act of generosity, the response of a truly benevolent heart. It is sharing the good provisions of God with others. It is an expression of the spiritual gift of serving. Hospitality is all about others. It says, ‘This house may be a mess, but I love you and I want to be with you.’”
Hospitality takes on a different look during the various stages of our lives. Don’t ride the guilt trip by thinking you have to do it all during the holidays. Biblical hospitality should be practiced throughout the year.
How do we make gift-giving an act of love reflecting the greatest gift of God’s Son? This Christmas we have the opportunity to practice, “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus; there is room in my heart for Thee.” Say it with me, won’t you?