Oh Holy Night

I love all things Christmas. I love the lights and the music and the decorations and the cookie-making and the party-going and the sparkle-wearing. I love watching all of the Christmas movies and eating chocolate out of Advent calendars and visiting Santa at Bass Pro Shop. I look forward to this time of year with the same anticipation I do summer—with a list of things we have to do and traditions we have to uphold.

Maybe this sounds busy and overwhelming and a tad overly-festive to you. But one of the things I love most about this season, about all of these traditions and to-dos, is that it feels like a built-in slow down for me and for our family. These are all things we do together, our little team, savoring time together, just us.

We decorate our house with obnoxious, mismatched decorations that my mother-in-law bought for me in abundance at Hobby Lobby years ago. We have Christmas music playing non-stop and Christmas candles lit and my girls beg to wash their hands because—you know—Christmas foaming soap! We linger here in this space because it’s cozy and pretty and it smells awesome.

We snuggle up on a pallet on the floor to watch The Polar Express 8,000 times, popcorn bowls next to us, hot chocolate with extra marshmallows in hand. We play Candy Land and make Christmas crafts and stay up a little later than we might otherwise.

We make gingerbread sleighs with my mom to give to teachers and friends and co-workers. We bake cookies in our sweats ALL DAY together. We eat extra bacon and waffles. We wear Christmas jammies as much as possible and throw healthy eating out the window and read the same Advent book every year.

For our first eight years together, my husband and I would travel every single Christmas—across the country to Pennsylvania or Ohio, Texas or Mexico. Then he was a pastor for a couple of years and we had to stick around for Christmas Eve services, and the staying home was one of the best things. To wake up in our beds on Christmas morning and cook breakfast for our friends and FaceTime with all of the family—it felt relaxing and unrushed and quiet.

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We often talk about the Christmas season as the hustle and bustle, about consumerism and over-doing it, about busyness and fast-paced and just too much. I can’t help but think about what that first Christmas was actually like—a dark, quiet night in a manger where a baby was born to two first-time parents. Simple and strange. Maybe even a little lonely. The fear and the excitement, the pain of labor, and the delight of meeting their son. The lingering voice of an angel in Mary’s head, promising that her son would be called the Most High, that his kingdom would never end. Just the three of them—Mary, Joseph, and their newborn son.

Then… angels and shepherds and wise men and all sorts of farm animals came to see. First, the quiet and the unknown. A birth in a silent manger. And then… a communal celebration, unexpected visitors, gifts and proclamations. Jesus was here. The hope.

And then, suddenly, her baby is born and the world knows without her telling anyone.

As Mary sat there, holding her newborn baby, shepherds came to see. Confirming the promise that an angel had spoken to her—that she would give birth to the Savior of the World. She held this promise close to her heart, guarded it, for the duration of her pregnancy. And then, suddenly, her baby is born and the world knows without her telling anyone. Her response? A quiet heart. She sat and treasured these things, pondered them in her heart. The very celebration of her son, God’s promise fulfilled.

Part of the joy of this season for me is this—the story of that first Christmas. The mystery and the anticipation and the simplicity. The picture of our King coming as a baby to two parents who had no clue what they were doing, surrounded by a dark night and strange animals and a celebration of random people who came to see God’s promise fulfilled in the form of a tiny baby. It’s breathtaking.

And something about this season captures all of these feelings for me. There’s the simplicity of being together, quietly and peacefully, on a snowy Sunday afternoon in our living room. And then there’s the beauty of celebration. Coming together as a community of family and friends and neighbors and unexpected visitors to celebrate all of the goodness, all of the mystery, all of the overcoming.

To say no to the things that don’t require our attention or attendance. To say yes to the things that make us feel more present and rested and alive.

And in it all, I wonder, How can we capture Mary’s attitude? How can we stop and ponder all of these things in our hearts? How can we store up the riches of God’s showing up, God with us, as a babe, and as a man, and as the Spirit that dwells within us? Christmas is a time to remember how God saved us and redeemed us by becoming one of us, a baby born into our world. And it’s also a time to snuggle in and savor the moments with family and friends. To say no to the things that don’t require our attention or attendance. To say yes to the things that make us feel more present and rested and alive.

We’ve learned over the years that there are certain things that make this season more enjoyable and less stressful. We shop online and only for the kids in our family. We order Thai takeout on Christmas Eve because it’s just too much to do church and cook a big meal. We don’t travel very often anymore and we clear the calendar for the whole week of Christmas and New Year’s. We leave room for spontaneity and doing what we feel like doing with the people we love.

I hope you feel the freedom this season to enjoy all of the things. The quiet ones and the loud ones. The simple ones and the flashy ones. I hope that you can sit in the moments of stillness and silence and soak it all in. And that you can enjoy the moments of celebration and excitement with a big, fat smile on your face. I hope that you take time to think about the story of Christmas, to ask God what He has for you in this season, and to remember how He’s shown up for you. Treasure these things up, ponder them in your heart, and encounter the presence of your Savior.

Colorado Springs, CO

Emilie loves stories. Whether she’s reading, writing, listening, or telling them, she believes that our stories reveal the heart and nature of our God. Emilie lives in Colorado with her two feisty daughters and one handsome husband. She loves all things outdoors and summertime, her neighborhood and her people, and happy hour every day of the week.