I teach a men’s Sunday School class twice a month. On the fourth Sunday in December of 2018 our literature posed the following question: “What decorations or traditions help you keep the focus of Christmas on Christ?”
Answering that question was how we spent most of our time that morning. It’s a vital topic which is easily ignored. The sparkling glitter of distraction is sprinkled more freely with each new season. Here are a few simple ideas that can help us look past the tinsel toward what’s essential.
“My Christmas Story” was lovingly shared by the late John Bonner with his family each year. He didn’t use notes when he told this story at home or occasionally at church, but thankfully he left a hand-written account. It’s a concise overview of how God’s plan for salvation began long before the virgin birth in a Bethlehem stable. The half hour needed for an unhurried reading is time well spent. It’s posted on my website at joinerscorner.com.
The late Duain Newsome was a bi-vocational pastor who lived in the Richwood Community south of Vienna. I mostly knew him through my 35 years of banking. He would stop by my office about twice a year to chat for a few minutes. During a December visit, perhaps a decade ago, he told me about a special custom in his family.
His children and grandchildren gathered on Christmas Eve to enjoy a traditional feast from Mrs. Newsome’s kitchen. They later switched to a simple meal of soup and sandwiches. Before the presents were opened, the youngest grandchild, who was old enough to read, would share the Christmas story from the second Chapter of Luke. I’m thankful for that memory of Brother Duain and our conversation of long ago. It helps remind me that worship doesn’t need to be complicated.
Christmas Eve communion is a cherished tradition for First Baptist Vienna. Started in the 1990s by then pastor, John Childers, I was quietly unenthusiastic for that first service. I knew it was a worthwhile endeavor, but my December calendar was overflowing, and year-end work was hectic at the bank. Between my job, family, and church I wasn’t sure I could embrace another planned activity.
When the dimly lit sanctuary quietly filled with family and friends my attitude changed. One pew at a time we went to the alter for communion as Gary Mixon softly played familiar hymns on his acoustic guitar. We watched as others took their turns, some of them home for an infrequent visit. Then we lit our candles and sang “Silent Night” as we savored a moment of uncommon serenity. And I knew with a comforting certainty that Christmas must never be too busy for Christ.
Ed Grisamore, long time columnist for The Macon Telegraph, gets credit for introducing me to “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Like the lead character in the film, I was running a small bank in a little town. I guess that’s why George Bailey in Bedford Falls found a tender spot in my heart. He was a frustrated banker until he discovered anew what was important. Jane and I have watched that movie many times since Ed recommended it in his column. When I would get a bit out of sorts from December’s frantic pace, she would lovingly suggest we watch it again.
Mrs. Betty Maples from Pinehurst has a longstanding tradition that I count among my favorites. Her family joins hands in prayer before unwrapping any packages. “Prayer Before Presents” is so simple I can’t think of a good reason not to follow Miss Betty’s example this Christmas.
Cantatas, caroling, and pageants where children dress up as wise men are a must for any list of good traditions. There are countless other ideas worth mentioning, but I need to stop writing for now. Jane said the hot chocolate is ready and it’s almost time to start the movie.
Whatever traditions we choose to embrace, the most important element is that they point toward the abiding reason for true celebration. Because of the Christ child born long ago in Bethlehem, we can rejoice in our hearts and proclaim joy to the world with our voices.
George Bailey was absolutely right. This really is a wonderful life.