I don’t know about you, but it takes a concerted effort on my part every December to keep my focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Certainly there are very few reminders in the public displays that feature the Originator of Christmas. Over the loudspeakers in markets and malls music about elves, reindeer, mistletoe, and fireplaces all aglow herald the coming of December 25th as a day to give presents, eat huge meals, and feel nostalgic.
Shopping lists, obligations to family and friends, a host of activities often crowd out any thoughts of the "reason for the season."
Years ago I had a plan to remedy any neglect of Jesus in my house at Christmastime. My idea was for our family to build a manger for Jesus. Surely, that would displace all the distractions and place Christ at the center of our home! With my two youngest children in tow, I went about collecting all the necessary items to build our manger. We bought straw, wood, and nails. I needed the wood cut to specific lengths and was overjoyed to share my Christmas plans with the hapless man who helped me at Home Depot.
Arriving home, Brian and I brought all the kids together and explained the reason for building the manger. The teenagers looked unenthusiastic, and even the younger two looked dismayed. It didn’t matter to me. I was sure that once we all started assembling the manger, the children would catch on to the true spirit of Christmas.
The boards for the sides of the manger were crossed, and it was time for the first nail to join them. Brian held the nail tight and handed the hammer to our oldest daughter. Even before the hammer struck, her disdain began to emerge. “How far do I have to drive the nail in?”
“Don’t you want to drive it in all the way?” I asked her with unnerving enthusiasm.
She looked disturbed. “Not really. I have plans for today.” After three light strokes that barely imbedded the nail in the wood, she was off to take an urgent phone call from a friend.
Our son, Char, was next. He was at the cusp of being a teenager. Still, he looked suspiciously at the project at hand. “Seriously, what are we doing here? Is this another one of mom’s brainstorms?” It was a disappointing reaction. However, I still held out hope. Char was my builder. This was something he could do with his dad. It was manly.
“Just swing the hammer,” Brian said without emotion. Char took a few swings. The nail connected and held the crossbars together.
“Don’t you want to do the other side now?” I asked, still brimming with anticipation.
“Not really. I was hoping to go to my friend’s house today.”
That was fine. I still had my two stalwart, youngest children. They loved Christmas! Just a few days earlier, I had found Barbie and a Ninja turtle bowing down in the simple ceramic nativity I had displayed on the coffee table in the living room. I was touched by the precious display of worship.
My youngest daughter looked distraught. “I think this is for boys,” she said, as she eyed the hammer apprehensively. Brian handed her the hammer. “I really don’t want to do this,” she said, handing it back to her father.
“Just one swing,” I coaxed.
Kelsey took the hammer back. She did her duty - one swing of the hammer that completely missed its objective. She smiled. There,” she announced with finality.
Braden’s turn was next. Surely my youngest son would love this project. Hammers, nails, wood, and pounding. What four-year-old wouldn’t love this kind of power?
Unfortunately, Braden’s swings were a bit unpredictable. His aim was slightly off.
As the hammer barely missed Brian’s fingers and body, he sighed and gave me one of those looks like, “I am doing this for you because I love you.”
Obviously the moment was over. It had come and gone, and the kids hadn’t grasped any of the deeper meaning to Christmas. There had been no sudden burst of understanding. There was no deep spirit of worship. Instead, there was a pile of wood and hay lying in my driveway waiting to be constructed into something that resembled a manger.
Right about that time, Gaylord, our assistant pastor, dropped by to discuss some church business. Immediately he was conscripted into the manger project, much to the relief of all the Brodersen children. He and Brian finished the manger in no time and set it up on the hearth in our living room. There it waited until Christmas.
I learned that day that Christmas must be a disposition of the heart. You can’t ring it in by an activity or project. You must pray it in and set your heart and mind on it. You must determine to make Christmas about placing Jesus at the center of your own heart and home.
Though my kids might have missed the true meaning of my project, they certainly did not miss the true reason for Christmas. Christmas is about God sending His most precious gift to us in the Person of Jesus. “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulder …” That family Christmas years ago was crowned by all of our attention riveted to the ultimate gift of God.