Christmas: A Pastor’s Perspective

Providence Classical School is blessed to have a number of pastors within our parent community. This month, we wanted to “sit down” with several of them to hear their perspective on Christmas, family, and the significance of this season during a global pandemic. Many thanks to the following contributors to this week’s post:

HANS GOOGER
Pastor of Preaching

Genesis Community Church
Father of Ethan (5th), Asher (4th) & Abram (2nd)

DAVE MUNTSINGER
Care & Counseling Pastor
Cypress Bible Church
Father of Jack (Class of 2016), Ford (Class of 2020) & Kate (11th)

ANDY SYTSMA
Senior Pastor

New Life Church
Father of Natalie (Class of 2019) & Caleb (11th)

JOHN YOUNG
Staff Pastor

Christ Our Savior Baptist Church
Father of Caroline (12th), Graham (10th) & Turner (6th)

What things do you do to make Christmas meaningful for your family?

Hans Googer:
Every morning from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas, morning my wife and I get up early and cook a special Advent breakfast for the family based upon traditional Christmas foods from around the world. Then we sing a Christmas hymn in that language before starting the rest of our day. It’s the highlight of our year.

Except it’s all made up! Our boys are 11, 9, and 7 and they’d hate us if we did that. (I wouldn’t blame them!) Instead, we do what many do: we decorate a little bit, watch Christmas movies, continue our (brief) Bible discussions at night, and spend time with people the Lord has put in our lives to minister to. I always want families to know it is OK if Christmas time doesn’t blow out all the stops. Be present, be caring … and maybe have a candy cane.

Andy Sytsma:
Staying rooted in the basics — scripture reading, devotionals around the dinner table, participating in and then talking together about a worship service we attended together.
Celebrating God’s big story — we always try to take in Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” tour or at least play the soundtrack so that we can be reminded of God’s big story that leads to Jesus.
Slowing down — giving and receiving the gift of “presence” with each other and with others, not just getting caught up in all the “presents.”
Finally, having fun — whether that’s seeing Christmas lights around town, taking in a movie together, making “Christmas Crack”, or putting up the Christmas tree, all of these things remind us of the joy and good news Jesus came to bring as Savior of the world.

John Young:
We have 25 cards in envelopes at the dinner table that we read at dinner each night in the month of December (one for each day), that recounts an Old Testament prophecy and its New Testament fulfillment.

While we do stockings for the kids, we never did the big bearded guy. But we liked the wonder of Christmas morning, so probably 10-15 years ago, I made a very rough, crude manger out of 1’x2′ wood pieces. Under our stockings, we place the manger on the fireplace with straw in it. And then on Christmas morning, we place a doll wrapped in a blanket in the manger before the kids get up. I didn’t think it was that big a deal until about 5 years ago when we forgot to do it, and all the kids asked why there was nothing in the manger!

Dave Muntsinger:
We give the kids presents, LOL. We have a daily Advent calendar, they get a piece of candy, and we do a daily Advent reading. We decorate together. We have a family dinner with the same menu on Christmas day. Unfortunately, due to COVID, we will not be joining any extended family this year, but we will attend the Christmas Eve service.

Photo by Dan Kiefer on Unsplash

How can parents keep their family focused on what’s most important at Christmas time?

Andy Sytma:
Keep the spotlight on Jesus. There is a lot of activity during Christmas time, and sometimes the sheer volume of activity can distract us from what’s most important. But for me, I’ve found it helpful to see Jesus in the middle of everything and remind myself that it’s about Him, not about me. So if you’re at a Christmas party, remember Who’s birthday it is. If you’re at a concert, remember the first Christmas concert with all the angels. If you’re spending time with family, remember Jesus’ incarnation and how he came to dwell with us. If you’re giving or receiving gifts, remember that Jesus is God’s gift to us.

Hans Googer:
We can’t help our children focus without first addressing the ever-evasive issue of time. The first aspect, and most important, is that we spend personal time reading and meditating on the Scriptures. If we don’t see the Lord well ourselves then we can’t focus anyone on Him. If this is not our habit then there is no well from which to draw and to pour into our children and neighbors. Without our attention on Jesus, then any Advent calendar, Christmas album, or pageant carries a hollow clang that shows no affection toward the Lord.

The second aspect of addressing time comes from slowing down and being present — and thus we create more opportunities to have meaningful interactions with our family. Perhaps working less, or, if able, taking time off, would benefit our family more than trying to cram the schedule full. This is a different year. Let it be different, and take the time provided to you because of it. It’s in between the structured times that meaningful moments occur. Do everything you can to keep your gaze on Jesus, and then be with those He has put in your life.

Dave Muntsinger:
Limit spending. Remind your kids at every opportunity that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and that we give gifts because Christ is our gift from our Heavenly Father who gives us the free gift of eternal life (Romans 3:24,25). Take the kids to church and observe Advent readings and candle lighting.

In what ways can we serve others this Advent season, even when it may not be possible to see people in-person?

Hans Googer:
Two disciplines can help us here. One is prayer. A regular, structured habit of praying for people can go such a long way with people in our lives. I’d even add that letting people know you are praying for them and how you are praying for them can be a ministry in itself.

Secondly, write notes. We underestimate the power of letter writing — with a pen and paper, not with keys and screens. If you need something actionable, take a family a week and write to them. This does not need to be burdensome. Even a hand-written note that simply says, ‘We love you’ will be remembered far longer than an email or text.

John Young:
Try to be generous. If there are waiters or service folks who are a blessing to us that we know, or others in need, we try to give generously to them without any fanfare at all, preferably without them knowing. God has stopped at nothing in His generous grace and mercy that He’s lavished on us, so our generosity ought to simply be an exhale of that work of compassion.

Dave Muntsinger:
This is very difficult, but consider a gift to your church’s benevolence or mercy fund. Inquire if your church is taking meals or gifts to widows or those in need in the church. Bake Christmas cookies and take them to your neighbors and go caroling! Organize a group and go caroling and give your neighbors Advent tracts/literature to remind them of the true meaning of Christmas.

Andy Sytma:
Reach out. This can happen in many ways. Call or text people to let them know that you are thinking of them. Bring gifts or send something special in the mail. Write cards letting people know you miss them, are thankful for them, or appreciate them. Enjoy Zoom calls with friends and family. Even though most days I’m all Zoomed out, this gift of technology is better than no connection.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The Christmas season should be a time of Peace on Earth, but this year, so many in our school community are suffering. Do you have any words of comfort or advice for families struggling with this season?

Andy Sytma:
Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
Have faith — even though we can’t see what God is doing, He is present and He is working in our lives and in our world.
Have hope — God’s not finished writing His story yet. Yes, it’s been a hard year, but we can have hope that God is working out all things for our good.
Have joy — joy is a choice, despite our circumstances. So many Christmas passages in scripture talk about the joy Jesus comes to bring.
Seek comfort and community — even if you are discouraged and feel alone, know that God is a God of comfort and has come to dwell with us. Seek God for His comfort, and don’t despair. Seek out community, and don’t isolate.

Keep trusting God, even in the hard times. He is faithful, and as we remember Jesus’ first coming, we remember His love for us and that He’s coming again to make all things new. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe:

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

Hans Googer:
Nothing that has not already been revealed —
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Dave Muntsinger:
This is a time of uncertainty, and it leads people to fear. The Perfect Love of Christ casts out all fear, so trust in the Lord. Jesus was born in a time of uncertainty and fear. The world needed Him to enter their lives and hearts then, and that hasn’t changed now. Trust in the Lord Jesus, go to church and worship Him, and you will find power and peace to face your tomorrow.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

What’s the most important thing that you want to communicate to families at Christmas time?

Dave Muntsinger: Jesus is King today and He was Lord at His birth. Trust not in earthly rulers but in Christ alone!

Andy Sytsma:
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

A final word from John Young:
I have a few confessions to make…

1. I love Christmas. I have ZERO objection to seeing inflatables in Lowe’s in October; I have no problem with Christmas decorations going up earlier and earlier every year. As a matter of fact, I’ve been known to play “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” on July 1, because we are closer to this Christmas than we are farther away from last Christmas.

2. Because of all the Christmas hype I seem to find myself on Christmas afternoon every year thinking, “Man, I missed it. It wasn’t as special as I planned or hoped it would be.” So who would want to hear from someone who feels like they don’t do Christmas the right way?

3. Having said that, I can be cynical. I find that very seldom does Christmas emotionalism translate into a lasting spiritual payoff…at least in my own life. So in my own spiritual life I try to remain consistent in my personal devotion…keep doing the same things that I’m always doing and allow the word of God to speak through the clutter. There are certainly times where the thoughts of the Nativity will lend color to what I’m studying or thinking about or reading or praying about, but it’s not necessarily the focus. The most fruitful things for me to do is allow my thoughts to move onto other spiritual truths, like:

  • Consider your rescue.
    We have all sinned and are separated from God because of our rebellion against Him, and God would be just to leave us to ourselves — as Ephesians 2 says, “without hope and without God in the world.” But Jesus left heaven and became man…and not only became man, but became a helpless child who learned like you and me. But if he had sinned once, he’s in the same boat we are. Jesus was tempted like us in every way…except he was tempted to the end. We haven’t been tempted like Jesus because we don’t need to be, we give in much earlier in the process! Jesus exhausted temptation and never faltered, He was without sin. And He paid the penalty for your sin in your place, and was killed and buried for it. Yet He was raised as proof that He is who He said He was and that our sin has been fully paid for — He was raised for our justification.
  • Consider God’s sovereignty.
    The fact that God would allow the Christ, the Hope of the World, to be born into such a precarious situation is astounding! How would he even survive the first few weeks of life, much less accomplish all that God had ordained? Yet, not one of God’s promises has failed, and all of them find their “Yes!” and “Amen!” in Christ.
  • Consider the wonder and the news of the coming of the Christ and the Kingdom of God.
    This is very helpful as we read the accounts of the birth of Christ. How many times do we see angels proclaiming the news of the coming of the Messiah? We see the angel Gabriel “proclaim the coming of the proclaimer, John” to his father, Zechariah! We see the angel proclaim the good news to Mary; we see the angel proclaim it to Joseph; we see Elizabeth proclaim it to Mary; we see Mary proclaim it; we see Zechariah proclaim it; we see the wise men proclaim it to Herod and then to Mary; we see the angels proclaim it to the shepherds; we see the shepherds proclaim it to Mary and Joseph; we see Simeon proclaim it to Mary and Joseph when they took him to the temple; we see Anna proclaim it there as well. This is newsworthy! And it’s still newsworthy! People still want to know, “What must I do to be saved?”. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! Let me tell you about him! Thinking on Christmas helps my evangelism.
Are you looking for a school community that will come alongside you as you raise your children to know and serve the Lord? Providence Classical School is a family of believers working together to train students to impact their culture for Christ. Come learn about the Providence experience. Schedule a tour today!

Header photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash