You’re as tired of hearing about the war on Christmas as I am. I know.
So allow me to tell you a little story about some of my theological forbears, the Puritans. Once upon a time, they deposed a King of England and took over the government there. Among the changes they made was banning Christmas completely because to their minds, it had no biblical justification. And not just in England; at around the same time, the Puritans in what would become these United States did the same thing. For about twenty years, it was altogether illegal in the Puritan colonies to celebrate Christmas, and doing so would earn you a fine.
Now that, friends, is what a war on Christmas looks like. But you know what? Even when it was illegal to celebrate it, I am positive that at least some people found ways to do it anyway. Maybe they couldn’t hang holly or feast, but I am quite sure those who wanted to celebrate found ways to do it. Maybe they added a little extra maple syrup to their food, to celebrate the sweetness of life with God. Maybe they burned a few extra candles or built the fire up a little higher to honor the Light of the World. Maybe they broke off a bit of evergreen branch as they walked by, inhaled the fragrance, and reminded themselves that life would win. Maybe they held hands, pulled a blanket over their heads, and quietly sang “All I Want For Christmas Is You” to Baby Jesus. I don’t know. But I’m sure they did something.
So whether you think there’s a war on Christmas or are just worried you’re spending too much time on stuff that doesn’t have to do with God, take heart. Nobody’s outlawed your holiday, so that’s good. And you have lots of options. One is to stop doing the things you don’t want to do and start doing the things you do want to do. Don’t do anything that’s not important, and spend all of Advent and Christmas in a highly focused contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation, while simultaneously loving your family more and taking on transformative ministries of justice and mercy that make the world the way God wants it to be. Let me know how that goes.
Another option is to simply do what I imagine the secret Christmas Puritans having done: Take the things you were doing anyway, and make them about God.
Oppressed by Christmas cards? Try praying for the recipients of each one you send, and the senders of each one you receive.
Stuck making cookies? Look at the recipe, and figure out how each ingredient represents a piece of the Christmas story, then tell it to somebody as you bake.
Tired of all the secular Christmas songs on the radio? Imagine the song being about God (this one will make you giggle, a lot, sooner or later).
Shopping got you down? Ask yourself: If you were one of the magi, what would you bring for this person?
Hate Elf on the Shelf? Me, too. That guy’s creepy. Just stop doing that one.
Don’t want to say “Happy Holidays” all the time? Wish people a “Merry Christmas” instead. Then make clear to your Jewish friends that you hope they in turn will say “L’shanah tovah” to you on Rosh Hashanah, and to your Muslim friends that you hope they’ll wish you “Eid Mubarak” at the end of Ramadan, and . . .
Feel too rushed? Imagine trying to make it to Bethlehem before your water breaks. Or better yet, imagine the Holy Family trying to make it to Egypt before Herod came down on them. While you’re racing from one thing to the next, pray for refugees in every land, whose reasons for rushing are a lot more pressing than yours.
If you want more God in your Advent and Christmas, you won’t make it happen by adding a zillion extra-holy things to your to-do list. Instead, take the list you already have, and transform it into an opportunity to meet the holy. You’ll get all your stuff done, and maybe manage to win a battle or two, too.
Quinn Caldwell is author of All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas, minister at Plymouth Congregational Church, and writer for the Stillspeaking Daily Devotionals. He lives in Syracuse, New York, with his family.