My husband and I decided not to have a Christmas tree in the house this year, making our large nativity set the focal point instead. Once we made the decision I felt both excited and lost.

How will it feel not to have a Christmas tree in our living room? We’ve always had one. Will our home feel empty and un-Christmassy? Or peaceful and holy?

That’s the trouble with traditions. What starts out fresh and exciting becomes expected, a rutted trail we follow without awareness or appreciation. The wonder fades; we repeat memorized lines wrapped in stale rituals.

What a tragedy when this happens to Christmas!

Yet it’s easy to mechanically attend recitals, parties, church activities, and family gatherings because that’s what we always do. It’s possible to shop, decorate, and bake out of habit, without being conscious that Jesus—the Son of God—coming to us in the flesh so we could see, touch, hear, and know God.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Sometimes that’s true. But more often it’s not so much contempt, but a failure to see those closest to us because we think we know them. This happened to the people in Jesus’ hometown.

In the years after the angel’s sang and the shepherds told everyone what they’d seen at the manger; after Simeon and Anna greeted Jesus at the temple and recognized their Messiah; after Herod freaked out when he heard a new king had been born and he murdered scores of innocent children; and after the Magi visited Mary and Joseph’s home and presented Jesus with gifts—it seems everyone except Joseph and Mary forgot who Jesus really was. The people in His hometown watched Him grow up. They knew Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ siblings (who didn’t believe in Him until after His resurrection). They thought they knew Him so well they missed seeing who Jesus really was.

 And this spawned contempt for His teaching. Even though news of His miracles reached Nazareth, they didn’t recognize their Messiah because He was so familiar.  “Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:4-6, NIV).

What a tragic comment! And that can happen to us at Christmas.

  • Is the story so familiar we no longer see the miracle of God with us?
  • Do we think we know Jesus so well we expect nothing from Him?
  • Is He amazed at our lack of faith?

Although our living room does feel a little empty without a tree, it also feels clean and bright, and surprisingly peaceful. This year has been even more chaotic and noisy than usual for us, so this quiet space draws me to pause and look. White lights frame the nativity figures in the window-seat. The other day I sat down to gaze at the scene and marvel.

I’ve been thinking of other ways to combat the neglect of familiarity. Here are a few ideas you might try:

  • Read an Advent book or Christmas devotional to focus on Jesus and gain fresh insight.
  • Pray with your family by candlelight. Talk about what life would be like if Jesus had not come.
  • Don’t just sing Christmas carols, but read the lyrics. Many contain the gospel message in concise and beautiful poetry.
  • Ask your family or friends, “Which person of the nativity do you most relate to in your relationship to Jesus, and why?” (Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, Anna, Simeon, King Herod, or the wise men).
  • Type the word “savior” in the search engine of biblegateway.com and read all the verses that come up. I have been writing my responses in a journal to each and I am seeing my Savior in a whole new way!
  • Ask others what is spiritually significant to them about: candy canes, bells, lights, Christmas trees, caroling etc. And tell them your favorites.
  • Do a Google search on what Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus’ birth.

I think tonight I’ll invite Kelly to snuggle with me on the couch and gaze at the familiar tableau where our tree usually stands. I hope we’ll be able to let the cares of the day go and see the miracle of Jesus—so familiar, yet so amazing—and savor the blessing of Christmas.

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