But. Something has been different this year. To my great surprise, I've been totally and completed captivated by Christmas.
The outpouring of God's love through the birth of His Son has been so clearly evident that I am at a loss for for words. I am speechless as I contemplate the truth of who our God really is. And for that reason, I haven't posted anything about Christmas. How can I describe this amazing experience and--more to the point--explain how it can be obtained?
Then I stumbled across the 5 Keys to Christmas Joy, and I realized, Christmas has finally become something meaningful for me this year because I followed five simple keys. There were five things I did without even being conscious of doing them, and these keys completely transformed the Christmas experience for me. Looking back now, I see that every year I neglected one or more of these five things, and that's why Christmas always left me wanting. Christmas joy is not elusive. It's simply a matter of taking the time to:
#1: Contemplate the incarnation.
I have had many wonderful opportunities to do this, thanks to the numerous concerts and plays presented by local churches. Two of the most sacred experiences were the 25th Annual Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant and A Not So Silent Night concert. How incredible it is to reflect on the birth of our Savior!
#2: Consistently practice the spiritual disciplines.
It's easy to slack off in December, but my church attendance is way up. I'm always amazed at how much my spiritual life improves by attending at least one service a week. I've also been reading the book of I Kings with a fervor. That sounds strange, I know, but God has really laid the story of Elijah on my heart, and I'm learning so much. (More posts about that to come!)
#3: Serve and give to others.
I'm looking forward to joining in on my fiancee's family tradition of serving at a homeless shelter over the holidays. What an incredible bonding experience that will be! I also really enjoyed the Christmas party we threw for the girls at the jail I serve at. We had pizza (which some of the girls haven't had in months), karaoke, an inspiring guest speaker, and a time of gift giving. One of the young ladies said, "Y'all made this Christmas even better than last year. And last year I was with my family." Wow. (By the way, this particular photo is of imprisoned Christians in Indonesia, faithfully worshiping God despite persecution.)
#4: Meditate on God and share your experience as an overflow of His love.
With all the negative talk and commentary in the world right now, it's so refreshing to spent time sharing what God has done with friends and family. I've had the opportunity to do this many times in the past few weeks, most notably over coffee after a Worship Night at church and at the Winterfest Boat Parade the following evening. What a beautiful time to relax and enjoy the beauty around me.
#5: Turn every gift into an opportunity to adore and glorify God.
My parents and I walked around their neighborhood recently, looking at Christmas lights. That was such a precious night, spent talking and laughing and reflecting on holidays past. My mom shared some of the ways she and my father have been able to bless other people with gifts, and we were all so taken with the privilege of being able to give.
It is my prayer that the next two weeks for you will be a time of Christmas joy. You have a break from your full-time job as a teacher, which gives you an opportunity to focus on God and the people and tasks He's divinely placed in your life. I encourage you to stay focused on the 5 keys during your Christmas break. Let these coming days be a time to contemplate who God is, draw nearer to Him, and serve out of an overflow of His love. Have an incredible, Christ-filled Christmas!!