This Week on Soul Talks
Have you ever felt like you’ve missed Jesus in the busyness of the Christmas season?
Christmastime is often full of festivities, shopping, distractions, and pressures. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it can be easy to miss out on moments of enjoyment, relationship, prayer, and meditation that are so essential to the spirit of Christmas.
In this Soul Talk, Bill and Kristi share with us some of their family’s Christmas traditions, and tangible, fruitful ways that we can joyfully find and focus on Christ, even in a secular culture and in the face of whatever we might be carrying into the holiday season with us.
You can listen to this Soul Talk below or scroll further down the page to read along!
Resources for this podcast
Christmas Traditions Transcript
Bill & Kristi Gaultiere
Let’s have a soul talk about Advent and Christmastime. This is such a special time of year, Kristi.
It’s a time in our family that we like to be very intentional about celebrating the birth of Jesus and just being together as a family with times of conversation, fun activities, and celebrating the season.
Don’t Miss Jesus During Christmas
Yeah, there’s so much to celebrate and it’s a great time of year!
There are times in the past where I felt like I’ve kind of missed Jesus and Advent, because there is so much other busyness: festivities, distractions, traditions.
And so it’s really helped us to be intentional with our focus, spiritually, on Jesus, to get my heart right, and to make that priority. And not let the pressures of the year and all the things that get crammed in cause me to miss Jesus during Christmas.
The traffic, the roads are busier. People are driving faster, they’re honking, stores are filled up and everybody’s trying to cram more into their schedule.
For the most part, it’s good things that we’re all wanting to do: Gathering with family, going to parties, and buying gifts for each other, and many aspects of the celebration.
And yet “the good” can become the enemy of “the best”.
We can lose the moments of enjoyment and relationship, and of prayer and meditation, that are so essential to the spirit of Christmas.
Even Non-Christian Traditions Can Renew Us Spiritually
Yes, we can. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do any of the other things that aren’t spiritual at Christmas time.
We still enjoy those things;
Going and looking at lights together,
decorating, putting up a Christmas tree and other decorations,
special Christmas cookies and Christmas foods that are only available once a year,
going to festive Christmas activities,
and things like tree lightings or Christmas Carol singing.
We even like to go and see the Christmas Carol play. Because that helps us recalibrate.
I especially need that, because sometimes there can be a Scrooge in me. And I need that to be confronted. It’s a reminder that Scrooge is not my true self. That’s not really who I am and who I want to be.
Finding Christ in the Culture
We don’t want to just throw away the culture saying, “Oh, it’s too loud.”
“It’s too hurried.”
“It’s materialistic, it’s ruined Christmas.”
And it’s understandable sometimes that we might feel that way or think about it that way.
But, we prefer to enjoy a play like A Christmas Carol. Or even the movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, which is a story about Charles Dickens. And you see how the celebrations of Christmas really escalated when he released his book, A Christmas Carol.
There’s a lot of good being taught in that and it’s fun.
So how do we find Jesus in that? How do we find Jesus in gift-giving, finding Jesus in decorating a tree, and turning on Christian Christmas music while we’re decorating the tree. We would always have a pizza party under the tree after we had all the decorations and all the lights on. And just have times of conversation and sharing with each other.
To enjoy the fruit of our labor and just really be present and enjoy it.
Yeah. Part of being present is having conversations like, “What are you looking forward to this Christmas?” and listening to everybody.
“Is there anything that you’re stressed about?” Then listening to each other, praying for each other.
That can work its way into a meal without it becoming like a heavy religious thing.
Reading a scripture verse from the Christmas story and letting people share what that means to them or their thoughts about it and not taking too long when the kids are little.
These kinds of things have helped make the Christmas holidays more meaningful for our family.
Using Non-Christian Elements to Put the Focus on God
Focusing on who he really was, as a true saint. As a worshiper of Jesus. Doing that’s really integrating. Taking some of the traditions of today, with the truth of where they started and then using that to focus on Christ.
We raised our kids on that, with the Kneeling Santa ornament, where Santa is kneeling before the cradle of the baby Jesus. And with a book that tells that story.
Just so the myth that has become Santa Claus, which is such an enormous thing, does not replace truth, and blessing and worship to God.
Giving worship to God is at the bottom of everything. So that our kids know that, and understand that, and can not lose sight of that.
Music Helps Keep Our Focus Where It Should Be
We go Black Friday shopping. It’s a fun thing with our kids. We get hot chocolate and we get deals on stuff, and we buy the Christmas presents and we hear Christmas music in the stores, and we enjoy that.
And listening to music. Music that is celebrating the birth of Jesus, like Hark the Herald Angels Sings.
And other things that aren’t from the Bible. Like the Little Drummer Boy. That’s not from the Bible. But he’s bringing his gift to Jesus by playing his drum. Pa rum pum pum-pum.
Music brings me great joy, and it even helps me to intercede when we’re out shopping.
When I hear Christian Christmas carols I think, “God, you’re so good. Look, your truth is still being proclaimed here in this very secular place with people who don’t have You on their minds at all.”
I’ve started to pray that people will hear, that they’ll listen, that their hearts and minds will be quickened to receive the gift of Jesus.
I’ve started to connect with Jesus in worship, even as I’m standing in line.
And maybe I’m a little irritated or weary from shopping, but there’s an opportunity right there to remember God’s with me.
Something that has helped us is to meditate on scriptures that are associated with Advent and that are associated with the coming of Christ, the birth of Jesus.
The Story Behind Surprising Joy Advent Cards
I memorized Mary’s Magnificat one year. And I was reciting that to myself all through the advent season and with my groups for pastors that time.
I shared that meditation with everybody, because when I’m memorizing scripture and finding fruit in it, then I share it with others in my ministry.
This was just a fun thing that we developed many years ago, where we decided a great way to celebrate Advent would be to pick one of the characters in the Advent story.
Then with the scripture behind that character’s life to meditate on that scripture and to just see the birth of Jesus through the eyes of that character.
Just so we could carry that meditation through the Advent season. And keep going deeper within.
Then we’d spin off into prayers and times of sharing with friends or with family.
Then we expanded it because we were sharing it with our groups of pastors, and women in ministry.
Then we brought our kids into it.
Then we brought the cousins into it, and different family gatherings.
And so we put out these pictures of each of the different characters and let everybody pick one. Then share on the table, which Advent character did you pick and what’s the verse?
Everybody reads it around the table. And if it’s appropriate, in a given setting, “How do you relate to this?” and “How do you feel?”
And then, even pray for each other.
We’ve had a lot of fun doing that.
Because it’s not just Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and the Wise Men, but we got in there. We got deep into the story.
We’ve even got the Lamb and the Camels and the Star. So the kids enjoy it too.
We call these “Visual Devotion Experiences,” where there’s a picture connected to a Bible verse and a prayer. This type of spiritual practice is a great equalizer, where the most mature disciple of Jesus and the beginner, they’re all at the table together.
And everybody can relate to a picture and everybody can have some response to it.
Advent Is For Everybody, Even Adults
Yeah, it’s funny, because for many years I never did the Lamb or the Star. Or some of the cards that I thought you had created for the kids, because I thought, Well, they’re for the kids, that’s why Bill put those in.
But then I did. And they were powerful.
The Lord really met me.
I love the way that Jesus says, “Let the children come to me.” and “Except you be as a child, you can’t enter the kingdom of God.”
I have found that to be true.
As I humbled myself, the kingdom broke in.That’s one of the things that we like as an Advent tradition, that Advent affords the opportunity to remember and to celebrate what God has done.
Advent Gives Us the Chance to Celebrate God
So as I’m looking at the Surprising Joy Advent cards, I’m remembering each year how God met me or spoke to me in past Advent seasons through my meditation on that character.
Or when we’re decorating our Christmas tree and we’re putting the ornaments on, we’re often remembering, “Oh, remember when you made this?” and we’re talking about the different ornaments that we’ve made. “Remember when you got this at that ornament exchange?”
We’re celebrating some fun and happy memories.
One of our traditions that I’m avid about is that I put up our family Christmas cards from the first year we were married all the way up to our current one in order.
And as I’m putting those up, I’m just giving thanks to God and praising him and remembering all these special times of Christmas celebrations together that we’ve had.
Yet, sometimes there’s some pain in those pictures. I’m remembering the seasons and thinking “Oh, that was a hard year.” Or, “Oh, we were going through that at this time of the year.”
But also I can see that even though it wasn’t a “picture perfect” Christmas that I can still see God’s faithfulness and His journey with us and how He’s worked for our good.
So these traditions for Advent and Christmas really help us to bond together as family and friends.
And most importantly with the Lord, because when we repeat something as a tradition and there’s a meaning behind it that we talk about, that we pray about, it deepens our understanding and our heart engagement.
It becomes something that we remember, and like you’re illustrating, we’re living it. We have life experiences, not only good ones but even hard ones that get gathered up into these traditions. Especially the feeling of and celebration in doing life together.
Traditions are so powerful, particularly when we can collaborate with them in meaning. We involve family, we involve friends. We’re not forcing something on somebody, but we’re doing something they actually enjoy.
And it becomes meaningful. And it gathers us together.
Being Honest With Ourselves During Difficult Times Makes Christmas More Authentic
They can be little in-breakings of the Kingdom of God, to us.
So I’m thinking back to the family Christmas cards that I just mentioned. I’m thinking about the Christmas card when Briana was a baby, our youngest, and she is screaming in the family Christmas card picture.
That’s one of our worst family pictures because it was such a hard time. Right after we took that picture, she went into the children’s hospital intensive care fighting for her life as a baby.
She was sick when we took that picture and there was just a lot of desolation and a lot of pain that Christmas. It was really stressful with me being in the hospital with her, trying to care for her and feed her.
And you were trying to care for David and Jennie who were just two and a half and four and a half. And they were sick too. And we weren’t able to all be together on Christmas.
And yet there were some real gifts at Christmas that I could look back and I could remember, and thank God for.
And I can thank God for his faithfulness and for how the family did come and stay with Briana for a couple of hours. So I could come home and be with the kids for Christmas, for a couple of hours, and how a friend from work came to be with Briana, so I could meet you for the Christmas Eve service.
How standing there in the hospital for hours upon hours, in solitude and silence just Briana and I, and the Lord.
24 hours a day. Day after day for a month. Holding my screaming sick baby, and thinking about how God humbled himself to become a baby.
So vulnerable, just like Briana. Who was feeling pain, screaming. Just like Briana was feeling cold, feeling the discomforts and struggling.
Even Jesus got sick.
His human body knew pain.
Thinking about Mary, and how it was for her to have the responsibility of caring for the Messiah as a human baby. And all the new insights and experiences that were increasing my appreciation of God’s gift to us at Christmas.
So now, as I look back at that family photo, it unleashes so many rich spiritual memories for me.
Both Positive AND Negative Emotions Fit Into the Christmas Experience
You’re showing us, Kristi, how you took the experience; the fear, and stress, and the grief of things being so different, all the challenges with Briana’s health and recovery.
You took that into the Christmas story.
You took that into the nativity and into the scriptures and you found Jesus there.
You even found the holy family, Mary and Joseph and Jesus there and their experiences.
So you were melding your experience, your trial, your emotions with those experiences the people had in the first Christmas.
Yes. We did a podcast recently on lament and the role of being emotionally honest.
There was a lot of that for me that Christmas as well.
Because I wasn’t enjoying some of these other Advent traditions you’re talking about.
I was lamenting that I wasn’t able to go Christmas shopping for our kids.
I was lamenting that I wasn’t able to go into any holiday plays or performances or celebrations or gatherings.
I was lamenting that I spent the whole Advent holed up in a hospital, and I felt like I missed Christmas, in a sense.
And yet, I didn’t. What was most important about Christmas was the intimate connection with Jesus and appreciating his coming. That was most profoundly personal to me, out of all Christmases ever.
And you have a special bond with Briana to this day, 26 years later, because of the way that you were just with her through that whole ordeal – almost every hour of every day, except for a little time to sleep.
And so God worked a great good through that. And we had fewer Christmas presents under the tree, but we had some laughs about the ones that were there because Dad bought them all.
You did a great job. You’re actually a better gift-giver than I am, by far.
I was amazed and it was a gift for me, to see you have the joy of that and what you got the kids, which was so fun. Each was so personal, thoughtful, and appropriate, because you’re better at that than I am.
We just so appreciated being together.
It gives a different perspective when you go through a trial like that.
Many of you have had health challenges. Or, you’ve gone through the loss of a loved one, recently.
That puts a really sad note on the holiday season.
And yet, if you practice what we talked about with emotional honesty and gratitude before Thanksgiving, and you apply the things we’re talking about now, there’s a way that you can experience the birth of Christ in a fresh way. Even in the midst of the stress, the disappointment, the grief, the conflict that’s now resolved.
The First Christmas Was Demanding
These are all part of Christmas too. And they’re part of the first Christmas.
There were a lot of kids who were killed on the first Christmas because Herrod was trying to kill the infant Jesus. The whole Christmas story; Joseph, and Mary, and Jesus, running for their lives all the way to Egypt. A very difficult journey, hundreds of miles.
So many things about that first Christmas:
- Mary going through labor
- Mary on a donkey ride for 70 miles
- Mary giving birth in a stable, with a bunch of noisy, smelly animals around
- The shepherds who are dejected, rejected, riff raff, low class in their world
And yet, God appears to them and announces that the Messiah has come.
There are many juxtapositions of the negative and the positive and the painful and the joyful in the original Christmas story.
So if we put pressure on Christmas and the holidays that it just needs to be all happy, we’re missing the whole point because it’s really this integration of things that are difficult with things that are beautiful.
We can romanticize it.
We think it should be this ideal and have expectations that actually can really set us up to be disappointed if we get overly attached to some of those expectations.
Choose Simple, Intentional Traditions to Add Depth to Christmas
So, friends, we at Soul Shepherding would love to give you the gift of the Surprising Joy Advent cards.
This would be such a blessing to you and your family, in your gatherings.
We’ve even done this with our social marketing staff. We’ve had pastors do this with their church staff and nonprofit leaders.
People do this with their small group community, with their friends.
It makes for a great gift. And these are quality cards, they’re a cardstock, a five by seven which we’ve commissioned an artist who did beautiful portrayals of 15 different advent characters.
And so there are 36 cards in the set. Two cards for each of the characters, and it’s really fun and meaningful for people to pick out a card.
It’s a very simple meditation on the back that even a school-aged child can do where you see the picture, and there’s a simple verse to read and a question to reflect on. Very easy to pray about that, or to share with your family or your small group or your friends.
It makes for a very meaningful experience. And so for us and many people, the Surprising Joy Advent cards have become a holiday tradition.
It’s part of what we do at Christmas time. And you can do it every year and not get bored with it.
I also love doing them on a retreat. Every year, Soul Shepherding does an Advent retreat using the Surprising Joy Advent cards. We send people out to an hour of Solitude and Silence on a Saturday, just to reflect on that card and pray through it, to be with Jesus and listen to the Lord.
And then come back to share and be enriched from hearing how the Lord met and spoke to each person through their character.
It’s a joyful way to make some space, to be intentional, and connect with the Lord.
If you’re a retreat leader or speaker, you can use the Surprising Joy Advent cards to lead your group or lead your retreat.
Or you can bring us or someone from our Soul Shepherding team to you and we can do it for you. If you’re a spiritual director, or a coach, or a counselor, these are great tools for your clients to help them reflect and pray and meditate through the holiday season.
We decided to make them a little more expansive and robust by doing two of each card so that you could use them with a group, or a larger family gathering so that more than one person can choose the same card.
Additionally, some cards give you breath prayers to carry with you throughout the season. To help you reignite, and reopen, and remind yourself of God’s presence.
Also, breath prayer can help you calm down and relax and get out of the anxiety and stress of the season.
As you pray slowly and deeply, over and over, turning your mind upon the scripture. That can be a great Advent.