It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere we go, from the Judy Garland music loops at the local mall to the inflatable reindeer on the neighbor’s lawn. People are rushing to buy gifts and decorate their homes for the holidays; anticipating family get-togethers and how to negotiate them with as much cheer and as little fighting as possible.
In the midst of the busy-ness, many of us are trying to discern how to teach our children about why Christmas matters.
Of course, we teach our children the Christmas story of a God who loves us so much that he became a child, a little babe in a manger. About three decades later, he’d live as a homeless traveling preacher, who humbled himself even further by suffering on the cross. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he now offers us salvation and promises to return and make the world right one day.
So far, so good. But as we tell this beautiful and powerful narrative, what are some practical takeaways for our children? Here are three ways we can apply the Christmas story to the lives of our young children:
1. God is close to our hearts, not far away in the sky.
The Christmas story teaches us that God chose not to love us from afar. He chose to love us up close. He chose to meet us where we are by being born as the baby Jesus, so that he could reveal himself to us in front of our very eyes.
Why does this matter to our children? Even though God no longer walks the earth as a man, he remains close to us in a way that only He can. This is an amazing truth. The same God who put the stars in the sky placed the freckles on your son’s face. The same God who keeps the earth rotating on its axis gives your daughter breath and life during the day. The same God who created our children’s minds and bodies now listens attentively to them when they pray before bedtime.
2. God’s love is an all-encompassing, never-giving-up, always and forever love.
More than anything, the Christmas story teaches us the penetrating and persistent power of God’s love. When he chose to be born as a human child, he was not only choosing to be close to us. He was also choosing a way of life in which he would one day suffer and be killed on a cross. On the cross, Jesus would pay the penalty for our sins. In other words, his love goes all the way; as Sally Lloyd Jones puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible, it is a never-stopping, never-giving-up, always and forever love.
This sacrificial and universal love speaks volumes to our children. They don’t have to be “good” kids or “winners” for God to love them. They don’t have to live on the right side of the tracks or be on “the right side of history.” Jesus’s love overcomes those labels by teaching our children that God loves them and values them no matter who they are, regardless of their moral track record, social rank, or financial status.
3. God’s love motivates us to be generous and sacrificial.
The Christmas story portrays Jesus’ birth as an incomparable gift to us. God’s gift to us is that he was willing to be born in a barn, swaddled in cloth, and cradled in a horse’s trough. All for the purpose of demonstrating his love for us. There was no depth too low for him to stoop, no distance too far for him to travel, no sacrifice too great for him to make.
How does this incomparable gift affect the way we teach our children about Christmas? It gives us the opportunity to instill in our children that true love is not a feeling but a commitment. It is a commitment to value other people more than we value ourselves, to give rather than take, to sacrifice rather than hoard. As we and our children tap into the love of Jesus Christ, that love flows through us toward others. That’s why we give gifts on Christmas.
Any parent knows that children love stories and are shape by them more than they are shaped by rules. And as much as children need good instructions to follow, what they need even more is a story that makes sense of the rules and gives meaning to their little lives. Well, the Christmas story is the greatest one of all. Or to be more precise, it is a powerfully significant event in the greatest story of all, the narrative of God becoming human in order to bring us into relationship with him. As we draw closer to Christmas, we an irreplaceable opportunity to show our children that their lives—their stories—are a part of that grand Christian story.
Bruce and Lauren Ashford are the parents of three small children and members of Summit Church in Raleigh, NC.
Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.