Christmas and the MIddle AgeD Parent

I’m glad Christmas is on a Sunday this year and that we’ll gather to worship and rest in Christ on Christmas. Most of us need to rest on Christmas or maybe we need a rest from Christmas. Christmas Day often feels like the summit of a long arduous climb. Through the travails of decorating, gift getting and party going by the time the day rolls around it feels good to relish in our accomplishment of reaching another Christmas Summit. But amidst the shrapnel of gift wrap stroan across the living room floor and extra plastic parts that we couldn't seem to find a place for, we have to ask ourselves how did it get this way? How did the day we celebrate peace on Earth and good will towards men become what it is today? How can decorating, gift getting and party going become so stressful? How can the day we celebrate our Saviour often make us so sour?

In this series, we’ve been looking at the Norman Rockwell effect. That’s when Christmas can’t bear under the weight of the expectation we place upon it or live up to the hopes we have in it. Last week, we addressed Christmas and the Millennial. Today, I want to talk a bit about Christmas and the Middle Aged parent.

For most of us middle aged, ballet watching, basketball coaching, carpooling types, much of the challenges that we face during this year are not as much of the expectations we have for Christmas, but the expectations we feel from others on Christmas. Whether it's the hopes of meeting our children’s gift expectations, or meeting the neighbors Christmas lighting standards or managing the family dynamics of the Christmas meal, many people in my season of life feel the weight of other’s expectations.

Christmas seems to have a way of exposing the issues of the heart and many of us struggle with the “fear of man.”

Proverbs 29: 25 says,

 “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

The world of the Old Testament was a more violent and volatile time so that the writer of this Proverb was most likely literally fearful of loss of life or property. While, that doesn't mean that isn't a real fear of some today, most of us in my season of life have a more emotionally oriented fear, than a physical fear of man. The idol known as “fear of man” is when our desire for other’s approval has a more sway on us than our assurance of who we are in Christ. The Lord teaches us in this Proverb that those fears of man are a snare for us. Here are a few snares at Christmas.

One of the biggest “snares” for us middle- aged parents is the pressure we feel to give our kids a good Christmas. For the most part, this is natural and I’m not advocating giving your kids a lump of coal this Christmas, but every parent feels the real pressure to make this Christmas a “good one.” The pressure seems to be multiplied when everybody else is getting or has either gotten "it" for Christmas. I have to remind myself that “gifts are grace.” Literally, that’s what the word means! Grace is a free, unmerited gift. If your station in life affords you the ability to fill the room with presents, this is an opportunity to teach your children that these gifts are grace and not an entitlement of our affluence. On the other hand, if it's difficult for you to afford Christmas, we too must remember that His grace is sufficient even in our want, so that in plenty or in want, we can celebrate the Giftgiver more than the gift. These are hard lessons, I know, but it points us to a deeper joy at Christmas than the enthusiasm of sparkly things and electronic gizmos.

The second snare is the pressure we feel from the myriad of relationships. A friend mentioned to me recently how difficult it is for his spouse to interact with his step dad at Christmas. My friend said that over the years, he had developed the mechanisms to handle his step father’s crude remarks and passive aggressive undertones. He said that he had gone “nose blind” to the smell of his step dad’s verbal jabs and would say, "That’s just the way he is” and move on, until he realized that his wife didn’t have the same response. It affected her differently. While we may very well need to be sensitive to seating charts at the dinner table and considerate of which sibling is getting mother a new electric blanket this year, relational dynamics (particular in the family) are another opportunity to remember that we are Adopted by the Father and He relates to us in grace and patience. If you have a “Cousin Eddie” (Griswold reference) that is almost intolerable, then pray for patience and kindness, and that you wouldn’t let their words define you. You are named by Christ who died for you and it is He who has called you his bride, friend and accepted in the Beloved.

The last snare we feel at Christmas is managing the expectations that we feel to perform. This is an area mom’s feel the brunt of. Whether its the kids holiday parties or managing the needs of extended family, many middle aged parents (particularly moms) are the most stretched around the holidays.

Now I know that it would be easy to say, Just Say No!  But we all know that saying NO just isn't that easy.  We have to remember that there are some things that we can afford to say no to and for most of us, we should say no to these things. Walk in freedom. Your life is hidden in Christ- not in how well you bake Christmas cookies or the clever way you hide a Christmas elf.  Walk in freedom that God has given you different ways to serve and may not have given you the ability to replicate perfectly everything you see on Pinterest. Secondly, there are some things that we have to say Yes to. A parent who has a doctor’s appointment or kid who has a geometry final are things that are just going to require our attention. Walk in freedom,  rely on the Lord. God is able to regain the lost time needed to wrap presents or close that important sale before the end of the year. 

Regardless of which snare you are prone to step in this Christmas, remember the second half of the Proverb. It says, “But he who trust in the Lord is safe.” It is a wonderful reality to know that with God we are safe. Many of us fear the reprisal of buying the wrong present or under performing in the kitchen, but with God we are safe and accepted in Christ. He welcomes us in his Beloved. In Christ, you are safe. You are safe from the condemnation that our sins deserve and the cold shoulder of God. For you who are in Christ, you are safe from the fear of measuring up because Christmas is about the Perfect One who measured up on our Behalf, who became sin that we may be the Righteousness of God. This Christmas may you walk in the freedom of Christ. In the Words of Zachariah’s “Christmas Song.”

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has visited and redeemed his people

and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,

as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 

that we should be saved from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us;

to show the mercy promised to our fathers

and to remember his holy covenant, 

the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, 

to grant us that we, 

being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

might serve him without fear.

                   -Luke 1:68-74

A millennial Christmas

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Have you felt the Norman Rockwell effect yet? As you recall, the Norman Rockwell is when your hopes of a perfect Christmas can’t meet or bear the weight of our expectations. As I’ve considered this in my own life and in the lives of others, it dawned on me that Christmas and the holiday season affect everyone differently. And so I thought we would take in turn the different seasons of life and look together at some of the struggles and expectations each may face during this season. We'll ultimately turn together our hope Christward.

For some time now, my life and ministry have been immersed in the world of people in their twenties. Most of which are single, recent college graduates. As a forty one year old father and suburban taxpayer, I experience life differently. I’ve tried to peer into their lives to see Christmas the way that many of them do. Millennials, I think, have a complex relationship with Christmas and the holidays. For some, Christmas is a challenge. Here are a few things that I’ve learned are issues that are most felt during the holidays. 

First, family is complicated for them. Millennials are the most likely children in history to have divorced parents. During the holidays this leads to a socially complicated web of Christmas occasions with step parents and step grandparents and interactions with unknown or hardly known family members. It feels weird and out of place. While there are biblical grounds for divorce and our gracious God often rebuilds the lives of severed marriages, at Christmas the hurt of broken marriages is often most keenly felt. During this time of year, there can be a deep soul ache that wishes life was the way it once was; that it was the the way it ought to be. Many millennials have to wade through this every holiday. 

Secondly, the holidays are often a break in a spiritually healthy routine. In the materialistic, hyper sexual world that millennials have inherited, I’ve found they best flourish in good rhythms of work, rest and worship. Like all of us, they flourish best and most in rich community with gracious accountability and an abundant diet of the Word. While many are obviously excited to reconnect with family and loved ones and are thankful for home, many find going home for the holidays spiritually challenging. The holidays break the rhythm of spiritual life in some ways and often isolate them from godly community- particularly if they did not come from Christian homes. I once spoke to a young man who said he didn't want to go home. I was taken back. “We sing songs about going home for the holidays after all,” I thought. When I asked why, he said, “I don't want to sleep in my bedroom.” Perplexed, I asked again “Why?” He responded sadly, “Because of all the porn I watched there growing up.” For young people home can be a complicated place and therefore difficult for them during the holidays. 

Thirdly, for many singles, Christmas can instigate discontentment. Christmas is a time for family and kids and often the person in their twenties who's too old for Santa and too big for the kid's table at dinner, feels like the fifth wheel of Christmas. Hallmark Christmas specials and Zale's Jewelry commercials paint a picture of hearth and home and/ or Christmas romance. Both are natural hopes of the christian single person.  While this isn't particularly an issue for millennials alone, it can make someone in their twenties and single gaze more longingly for their future self and in return make them lonely this Christmas.

Lastly, one of the things that is often remarked about this generation is their commitment to authenticity. It doesn't take a sociologist to question the authenticity of modern Christmas practices. Now I’m not saying that twenty somethings don’t like gifts and free meals. It's hard not to when you’re cash strapped. But for many young people the Pinterest veneer of the holidays is hard to swallow. If our culture has made Christmas a farce then the millennial follower of Jesus struggles to play along.

And that is what leads us to what we can learn from Christian young people this season. What I love about Christian millennials is how spiritually serious they can be. In my middle aged Christmas world, there are a lot of things that often clutter Christmas, but for them it can be a rich season of hope and adoration, of worship and rich community together.

And so that would be my encouragement to the millennial and to all of us. If going home for the holidays is a mixed bag of brokenness and a complexity of broken family, then instead of wishing upon a star that somehow for just one Christmas day life would be right, acknowledge the effects of this fallen world and adore the One who will not simply make only one day in the calendar year right, but who will make all things new. Remember that in the eyes of the world, Jesus was an illegitimate child of unwed parents. Can you imagine the familial complexities and social uncertainties that Joseph and Mary were tempted with that first Christmas? Christ Himself was born and lived in a world that wasn't right and He is the one who will restore it.

For those who know that with the holidays will come temptations, realize that at every season of Jesus' life the the steady threat of temptation was intense and always present, yet without sinning. (Hebrews 4:15) Trust that you’ve been raised with Him who was born in that manger, and now are enabled to freely walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4) Remember that the Christmas child is now your Advocate (1 John 2:1) and that His gift to you is all the spiritual resources for holiness and happiness this holiday season. (2 Peter 1:3)

Lastly, the millennial may be in the best position to lead us past the garland and pretty paper of the holidays to the manger of the Incarnation, to the Cross of the Atonement on to the Resurrection of our Hope and to then finally upward to His Return- where not just one day a year is “Norman Rockwell” day, but where everyday and all things will be made new!

A Norman Rockwell 



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What is the norman rockwell effect?

Christmas is my favorite time of year! Like most of us, Christmas brings me thoughts of joy and anticipation. The sights, sounds and smells of the Christmas season make any grown man more of a kid again. The added attention to the incarnation and our hope in the Messiah born in Bethlehem inspires and refocuses our spiritual attention and affection. If you don’t like Christmas, then you are obviously a…. SCROOGE!

But for many, Christmas brings some level of disappointment. There are lots of reasons for heartache at Christmas. The sting of lost loved ones is sharper and memories of bygone years more vivid. Christmas bears with it some financial expectations and for those who are unable to meet them the hurt is real. There are many valid reasons to experience grief at Christmas. In no way should we dismiss the real hurt many feel at Christmas. The Norman Rockwell effect is something different.

Have you noticed that we can’t help to envision the holidays without  dreams of perfect meals served in perfectly decorated homes eaten together by perfectly happy people? The fixed Christmas in my mind is lit by the heart warming glow of candlelight in the perfect hue of a Norman Rockwell painting. Thus the term. The Norman Rockwell effect is when our hopeful expectations of the holiday are such that there is no way reality will meet them and our hopes for Christmas can’t bear the weight we place on the holiday. What parent hasn't screamed at bickering kids, "But children. It's Christmas!"

In these next couple of weeks, we will explore how to approach the holidays with biblical expectations. Rest assured. This isn’t an article against Christmas trees, toys or Christmas carols. Please by all means- enjoy all of the things that come with Christmas. My family and I will! These few lines will look at how Christmas affects us and how our hearts often ask more of Christmas than it can possibly give. My hope is that this Christmas we can walk in the freedom and soul filling joy of Christ that Zechariah had when he told his son...

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

May the Lord guide your feet into the way of peace this Christmas.