December 2017 – Recall an early memory of hearing the Christmas story. Was it at church as the pastor read Jesus’s birth narrative from the pulpit? Was it Linus reading it in the Charlie Brown television special?
What about a first memory of Santa Claus? Was it a Coca-Cola commercial? Perhaps someone asked what he was bringing on Christmas morning.
More than ever, children today are bombarded with confusing messages about Christmas. According to our commercialized culture, this season is all about a big man in a red suit with gifts to unwrap on Christmas morning.
Keeping the hearts and minds of children, and ourselves, on Jesus during the season obsessed with trees, decorations, gifts, and food can seem like an insurmountable challenge. But numerous helps are available for parents and grandparents who are willing to be intentional about Christmas.
Sneaking up on everyone
Calendars can be deceiving. They show exactly how many 24-hour periods exist between now and Christmas morning. However, they do not show all the preparation time required to get everything ready for gatherings with friends and family. Even though Christmas falls on the same date every year, it has a habit of sneaking up on people.
Preventing that from happening requires intentionality. This does not mean removing all cultural accouterments of the season; there are still times and places for them.
However, being intentional forces parents to view those things in light of the true meaning of Christmas. Focusing hearts on the beautiful truth of God taking on flesh is of utmost importance.
The best way to keep that focus is with a daily reminder. Set aside time with the family and open the Scriptures together. This can be done after everyone has finished dinner, just before bedtime, or any other time that fits within the rhythm of a family’s schedule.
A great resource for this is Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp.
Come Let Us Adore Him is personal, approachable, and biblical. Each daily entry ends with a Scripture passage to read together and questions for parents and children. Each reading takes less than 10 minutes and, after a month, it will become incorporated into the routine of your family.
Seeing the family rhythm
When the Christmas season is over, things tend to slow down. Toys are broken, and gifts that once brought a gasp of excitement lie forgotten in the back of the closet. But if that time of opening Scripture together as a family is incorporated into the family’s rhythm, it should not be allowed to end when December does. It can, and should, continue for the rest of the brand new year.
There was a time in Christian history when this time, known as family worship, was not only expected, but fathers could face church discipline for neglecting to lead their families in it.
In Family Worship, author Donald Whitney points to the Westminster Confession and the Second Baptist London Confession of 1689 because both documents contain the words, “God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself.” (Emphasis added.)
Whitney explained to AFA Journal: “Any father in the Presbyterian Church in Scotland during this time who refused to lead his family was to be admonished by the elders. If he continued neglecting this responsibility, he was to face church discipline. They thought it essential to the spiritual health of the family.”
For parents who did not grow up experiencing family worship, the thought of leading a spouse and children through the Scriptures can be intimidating.
“Parents do not need theological or seminary training,” Dane Ortlund, president of Crossway, told AFAJ. “But there are tools to make instituting regular family worship easier. One such resource is Crossway’s Family Devotional Bible.
“In the FDB, we wanted to offer the full text of the Bible and provide regular help for parents teaching their children. That resulted in us creating 130 animated spreads with a devotional summary of a passage and questions to ask their children.”
Structuring family worship
Doing family worship during Christmas can be fairly easy and straightforward. Families can spend an entire month talking about the coming celebration of Jesus’s birth. But what can family worship look like for the rest of the year?
Whitney identifies three elements that have been present in family worship for much of Christian history. “Pick up the Bible, pray, and sing,” he said. “Just start reading where you left off the night before, pray something from what you read, and sing one verse or a chorus.”
“That is almost exactly what I do with my family,” Ortlund said, “with the added element of questions. My kids are 11, 7, 5, 3, and 1. I ask them all age-appropriate questions.”
Parents may be misled and intimidated by misconceptions about family worship, one being that much time must be spent in preparation.
“I have never prepared,” Whitney said. “I may come across an article or something in a book and talk about that, but it is not necessary. Just pick up the Bible and read it.”
According to Whitney and Ortlund, the entire practice of family worship can take 10 minutes and, if the family has young children, it should take less.
“We must be careful as moms and dads,” Ortlund said, “to do this in a way that our children taste the goodness, love, grace, and mercy of God. We don’t want them to think of family worship as a time where Mom and Dad just tell them to do better, try harder, dig deeper. We must use this time to remind them, on a fundamental level, that they are safe in Jesus.”
Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp is a 31-day devotional that can be used to get into the rhythm of family devotion. Each day’s reading draws the hearts of the readers, and listeners, to the Christ whose incarnation we celebrate in December.
Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney is a 67-page discussion that lays out the case Scripturally, historically, and practically for family devotion. It removes intimidation, mystery, and excuses, giving parents the grace and courage to lead their children to Christ.
Family Worship Bible Guide, edited by Joele Beeke, has a simple approach to family worship. It summarizes each chapter of Scripture and ends with questions. It is not meant to replace Scripture, but to be read alongside it.
Family Devotion Bible is the full text of the English Standard Version along with 130 illustrated spreads with devotional readings, summaries, and questions for parents to ask children.
The 10-Minute Bible Journey by Dale Mason (Answers in Genesis) walks older children from Genesis to Revelation through 52 stories.