Unwinding wrong views of God at Christmas
As Christians, we can find ourselves a bit torn about Christmas. On the one hand, we love it – who doesn’t? – especially because it celebrates the birth of Jesus. On the other, lots of Christmas has very little to do with God, and it can be hard to help our kids hang on to the whole truth of who he is amidst all the tinsel.
I want to look at three ways that kids can get confused about God at Christmas. They may not affect all kids, but it’s worth having a think about some common misunderstandings and how we might unwind or prevent those views.
1) ‘Oh, isn’t he a cute baby!'
We love a nice nativity – against all odds God himself is born, all too often into a clean, cosy stable, watched over by adoring parents and surprisingly unsmelly shepherds. This is the version we'll see in the school nativity play, as well as in the vast majority of Christmas carols and almost all books written about Christmas for children.
There are two big problems with this view of God.
- Firstly, it is a totally sanitised version of what actually happened. For Mary and Joseph the first Christmas was a time of fear, uncertainty, pain and even terror, overcome only by their faith in God. The nice nativity just doesn’t communicate the awesomeness of what God did, or help our children understand the courage of the people who partnered with him in that journey.
- The other problem is that it’s only part of the story of Jesus. We all need to know how Jesus’ birth fits into the big story of God, the world and us. We don't just need to know that Jesus was born. We need to know WHY he came to earth, WHAT HE DID, and WHAT HAPPENED NEXT so it makes sense.
So how can we prevent or unwind this view of baby Jesus God?
- When you’re looking for story books or videos about Christmas, help your kids understand WHY Jesus needed to be born by choosing versions that tell as much of the big story as possible, including his death and resurrection. The Jesus Storybook Bible does this well, and offer a free advent reading plan. We also liked A Jesus Christmas family advent devotional.
- You might not have any control over the carols you sing at church, but look out for Christmas songs that tell a bigger story, like We Three Kings or Nick and Becky Drake’s The Angels Knew.
- Talk about what you think it was really like for Mary and Joseph. Depending on the age of your kids, you might want to watch a more realistic version of the story, like the BBC’s Nativity series, which does an excellent job of communicating the dangers as well as the conflicting emotions and faith of the main characters.
- Become adept at spotting incomplete or sanitised versions of the story and sharing them with your kids – maybe even turn it into a game!
2) ‘God is like Father Christmas’
You see, the jolly old man in a red hat is actually a lot like God. He knows everything, he can go anywhere (including down chimneys), he is eternal and all powerful. And the one thing everyone knows about Father Christmas – he knows when you’ve been naughty and he knows when you’ve been nice. And if you haven’t been nice, there won’t be presents. I know that when my daughter was small I did sometimes mention this ‘fact’ in the run up to Christmas …
But sometimes, this idea that we get what we deserve can become so embedded in us that it buries the amazing truth that God isn't like that. He offers free forgiveness so what we've done doesn’t need to determine what we receive. But kids can get mixed up and think - maybe subconsciously - that they need to behave well to keep on the right side of God and may become anxious about getting things wrong or offending him.
So how can we unwind this view of God?
- Depending on your family, you might want to think about how big a part Father Christmas has in your Christmas. Is he the main figure or just a bit player? How do you talk about him and his present giving? This is an article which might help you think this through.
- If your kids are older, you can talk about the differences and similarities between what people believe about Father Christmas and what the Bible teaches about God.
- Share the real story of Father Christmas – St Nicolas, motivated only by compassion and kindness. What’s in the Bible’s ‘Why do we call it Christmas’ DVD has a great section on St Nicolas.
3) ‘God really wants me to be happy’
Now, don’t get me wrong – Christmas is most definitely a time for celebrating and being happy! Christmas was part of God's plan for saving us and parties, feasting, presents – they are all part of Christmas as we share the joy of the angels.
But because Christmas can be so focused on us, sometimes kids can pick up a wrong idea about God – what he really wants is for us to be happy. He loves it when we get presents we've longed for, he loves seeing us spend quality time with our family and friends and he loves to give us a well-earned break. But actually, that’s not God’s main desire for us. What he really wants is for us to join him in his amazing work of changing the world – healing, rescuing, loving, seeking the lost. God knows that true happiness isn’t found in stuff or even other people – it’s found when we partner with him in his great plan of changing people’s lives and hearts.
So how can we counter this 'God wants me to be happy' view of God?
- You might want to think about how your family does Christmas to free up time or resources to focus on others – maybe offer practical support to a local charity, or invite people round who might otherwise be alone. Some families limit their gift giving, or let their kids choose a present to give away to someone else, or start a reverse advent calendar.
- Chat about what present God might want this Christmas. Is that something we could help with?
- Wonder together what ‘loving our neighbour as we love ourselves’ might look like at Christmas. With older children you might want to think about what Micah 6:8 might mean as we celebrate.
- Talk about what special gifts and talents God has given your family – how can you put those to work at Christmas to bring God’s love to others?
Whatever you do this Christmas, however you celebrate, we hope you have a wonderful and joy-filled time. Happy Christmas!