By Cara Garrity,
GCI Development Coordinator
It seems Christmas sneaks up on me almost every year. Maybe it’s the busyness of the year-end or the daily routines that obscure meaningful passing of time. Maybe it’s overwhelming preparations or inattentiveness and distractibility. Whatever the cause, I wonder if you are like me and find yourself unprepared to be present to the sacred meaning of the Christmas season.
The GCI worship calendar is designed to help orient us to Jesus as the center of the center. The liturgical calendar— through intentional and formational rhythms of worship— seeks to center and organize the lives of Christians around Jesus.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves manipulating or ignoring the worship calendar around our busy schedules rather than allowing it to orient us around Jesus as the center.
Christmas is a season of joy and wonder because God is with us! It cultivates a posture of contemplation and celebration of this transformational truth. In the person of Jesus, we encounter Immanuel, God with us. John tells us:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
In Jesus, God the Son has stepped fully into our humanity. He has met us in all our mess and brokenness. He has walked among us. He has become one of us. The transcendent has become immanent. In the Christmas season we celebrate this profound, all-transforming truth that God has decidedly gifted us his incarnate presence in the birth of Jesus.
Christmas is all about presence. (Not to be confused with the belief that Christmas is all about presents!) It is about the incarnate presence of God in Jesus Christ and how this presence has changed everything. The worship calendar seeks to orient us towards this truth each Christmas season. And yet, we struggle to be present, to live with an awareness of and engagement with the transformational witness of the Christmas season. We struggle to allow it to orient us to the incarnate One.
In speaking about spiritual transformation, Ruth Haley Barton said this:
Many of us try to shove spiritual transformation into the nooks and crannies of a life that is already unmanageable, rather than being willing to arrange our life for what our heart most wants. We think that somehow we will fall into transformation by accident.1
What would it look like this Christmas season to be intentionally present to the truth of the incarnate presence of God in Jesus Christ rather than trying to shove it into the nooks and crannies?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- The 12 days of Christmas is not just a fun song! Traditionally the Christmas season lasts twelve days in the Christian calendar—between Christmas day and Epiphany. Consider dedicating these twelve days to be intentionally and profoundly present to the truth of Jesus’ incarnation rather than rushing through one busy day of Christmas festivities. Here is a link to a suggested reading plan.
- Contemplate the humanity of Jesus: Read the four Gospel accounts. Do an in-depth study of a Gospel account. Journal about what the humanity of Jesus means for you personally, for your community, and for the world. Go on a prayer walk or do meditative movements thanking Jesus that he knows what it’s like to move around in a human body.
- Be present to the presence of God: Silence. Solitude. Retreat. Meditation. Lectio Divina. Media fast.
- Celebrate corporately: Read through a Gospel account as a small group. Participate in a special Christmas worship service. Go through a Christmas devotional together as a church community.
- Lament personally and corporately: In the Christmas season we profess that Jesus came to our world not as we wish it were, but as it actually is in all of its messiness and brokenness. Be present to suffering in the presence of Jesus who knew suffering. Be present to your tears in the presence of Jesus who wept.
- Be intentional: In whatever form you open yourself to be oriented to and transformed by the incarnate One, know it will not happen by accident: Physically block off time in your calendar. Set a timer. Take a day off. Wake up a half hour early. Put your Bible on your coffee table. Schedule corporate celebrations with advance notice.
Being present does not come by accident. This Christmas season I pray that you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be intentionally present and oriented to our incarnate Jesus.
1 Barton, Ruth Haley. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. InterVarsity Press, 2006.