What’s With All This Stuff?! It’s Christmas, Of Course!

We’ve enjoyed decorating our house for Christmas. Putting up the tree is always a highlight–getting out the ornaments is like opening presents. Remembering and talking about them is like nostalgia deja vu.

My favorites are the nativity, the angel choir, the homemade ones, the ones that were gifts from friends and family, the ones that were handed down and the ones I bought for Tom’s and my first Christmas. I guess that’s all of them.

unpacking the ornaments
unpacking the ornaments

I know there can be some hesitation on the part of serious Christians about going all out with a tree and presents and cookies and stockings and on and on. I have shared that hesitation in many ways. We don’t want the tree to overshadow the nativity. We don’t want the presents to overshadow the baby. We don’t want the anticipation of cookies to outdo advent.

Over the years of having a family and sorting these things out, I happily embrace the tree, the presents, the cookies, the stockings and all the rest of the good gifts and joy that come with Christmas time, even Jingle Bell Rock. One thing I’ve learned is that in our home, Jesus can’t be overshadowed.

I spent a number of years being very suspicious of anything earthy. I mean anything too physical, too material. For me, thoughts and ideas and beliefs were often disconnected from stuff, from my senses. To me, the material was often opportunity for sin. But what is the incarnation if not physical? Christmas reminds me of the material state of things–and God’s good with that. He made it that way.

And what if all this stuff, all this material, isn’t only opportunity for sin (which of course it is), but for good works? What if I’m supposed to look at the tree, not mainly with stand-offish suspicion (like, hey Mr. Tree, don’t be too much fun, or too much work!), but as a way to do something awesome for my family that surrounds and supports Jesus coming?

What if the presents aren’t a way to spoil them rotten, but a way to show the lavish love of Jesus? Now, I have to have a side-bar here, because I’d show myself quite ignorant if I didn’t say something about our culture’s tendency to overwhelm (in a bad way) kids with stuff. When the kids come up from the present-induced stupor of junk junk and more junk, I don’t think that mirrors the lavish love of God. And, if the junk is just a continuation of the junk that they’re getting all year at every hint of desire or whine, that’s gonna be real ugly. So, give your kids good gifts–not ones that are by their nature anti-social, soul-shriveling, real-man-hindering blech. Yes, I’m looking at you video games! And let Christmas giving flow from good and thoughtful giving all year–not entitlement. Side-bar over.


All the extras: the tree, the stockings, the food, the ornaments, the lights, they serve Him. They make a big deal of Him. It’s our job to draw the lines. We parents draw the lines between Jesus and the tree, Jesus and the stockings, Jesus and the food. If we don’t see the connections ourselves, then they very well might skew the meaning of Christmas into a gooey, sentimental, whine-a-thon for more stuff.

Parenting is connecting the dots. It’s actually more than that. A dot-to-dot is parenting 101. If your kids are older than two, you better starting getting out the paint-by-number. If they’re 8, find the watercolors. And if you’ve got teenagers, I hope you’ve got the oil paints out and are cooking up something masterful to behold.

As the kids grow, our parenting better go from connecting the dots of Christmas to beautiful tapestries that weave the story into everything we see. And if you’re weaving tapestries for your two-year-old (or painting masterpieces, don’t ask me to keep metaphors straight), all’s well. He’ll grow into it. Just be sure and sprinkle some sugar on top, cause that’s what Christians do, we give things the right flavor.

So this year, let’s look for opportunities for good works in Jesus’ name. Let’s get physical. Let’s let our deeds match our ideas, our beliefs, our high and lofty thoughts about the Incarnation. Let’s adorn this doctrine of Gospel with good works and good words. Let’s ornament our family’s hearts with words fitly spoken, with joy and love–and let’s mirror that with the ornaments on our tree that celebrate the one who made love and joy and fitting words possible.


“showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
(Titus 2:10-14 ESV)

“A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
is a wise reprover to a listening ear.”
(Proverbs 25:11-12 ESV)

the final wait

We have entered the last week of advent. We remember the wait for the birth of baby Jesus.

We remember the waiting that has already been consummated. It has been completed: Jesus did come. Yet we remember and reenact it. But we do not wonder what it’s like to really wait, as though it’s a reenacting apart from our present circumstance that we merely remember. We have our own waiting to do.

For ours is the final wait. We wait for the end, the returning, the perfecting, the new heavens and new earth. Or we wait for our own end that will take us to an early glory. Yes, we are familiar with waiting. Perhaps we are less familiar with the arriving. The actual completion of things waited for. So, we practice the completion at Christmas. We remember that the Messiah, long awaited for, finally did come. And so, we take heart in ours, the final wait.

“8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:8,9

Thank you, Lord, for the waiting.

what vomit under the Christmas tree teaches me about the Glorious Incarnation

It’s been a long couple months at the Dodds’ house.

From German yellow jackets nesting between our ceiling and floor to washers and water heaters on the fritz to being rear ended at a stop sign to the stomach flu taking us out one by one over the course of a month and a half.   I feel like we’ve been through the ringer.

And Tuesday, the 21st, as I’m thinking of the million and one things I still have to do before Christmas arrives, our son walks into my bathroom with a face as white as snow with the sad tale of having not made it to the bowl.  Hence the vomit under the Christmas tree.  Poor guy.

So, I commence clean up, unwrapping presents covered with the unspeakable stuff and start to wonder what this is all about anyway.  I start going over all the things we’re supposed to do that we may not now be able to do this Christmas.  And, thanks be to God, I remember Jesus.

Jesus, who came to earth in the only way any of us do.  In a mess.  Maybe Mary vomited during his birth.  Who knows.  But I don’t have to wonder whether it was messy or not.  I’ve given birth enough times to know about that.

Perhaps Jesus was a little 4 year old who didn’t make it to the bowl, and spoiled his family’s plans for the day.  He certainly wouldn’t have been sinning if that were the case.  He would have simply been human.

And yet, for having entered humanity, He never lessened His glory.  His glory wasn’t compromised by a messy birth or intestinal disruption.  Somehow, the fact that He came in flesh and bore with our weaknesses increases His glory.  We see more of who He is because of it.

Yesterday I read on Desiring God a quote from Martin Lloyd Jones,

Jesus Christ has not been changed into a man; it is the eternal Person who has come in the flesh. That is the right way to put it.

It’s refreshing for me to remember that Jesus is a Person.  The Person.  The Perfect Adam.  The Glorious Incarnation in a vomit-filled world.

God, in His infinite grace to His daughter, teaches me more about Christmas through vomit under the Christmas tree than by having everything fall into place the way I had planned.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this Christmas.  The presents will be wrapped in clean paper.  The kids will get better.  The car will be fixed.  All things will one day be made right.  But the biggest thing has already been made right.  God the Man has come to Earth to save people from their sins.

Bought.  Paid for.  Loved.  Forgiven.  Free.  That’s who I am this Christmas.

All because of a messy birth 2,000 years ago.

bah humbug! 5 reasons I'm not a santa fan.

I admit it.  I’m not a santa-endorser.  He started as a nice thing and I like his history, but (I think) he’s morphed into an unhelpful distraction that has the potential to pervert the meaning of Christmas.  So, here’s 5 reasons not to “do” santa:

1) Presents from santa do not promote thankfulness (at least thankfulness to the correct person).  How do presents from santa fit into the understanding that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” James 1:17, or the commandment to “Honor your father and mother,.”  who are, after all, the gift-givers.

2) Telling our kids to “believe in” santa may sound, in their ears, similarly to telling them to “believe in” God or His Son.  The similarity of language makes for some confusing distinctions.

3) Santa promotes getting, not giving, for children.  Children only ever receive from Santa, rather than from a family member, from whom they receive and give back to  in return.  

4) Kids seem to glom onto santa and presents at Christmas time, which makes it really hard to make the deep, perhaps more difficult to see, truths of the season come alive.  Santa gives them sweet treats that don’t satisfy, but dull their senses to the beauty of Christ.  

5) As my pastor says, santa is bad news for a sinner in need of a gracious savior.


As usual, here’s a disclaimer.  There are plenty of godly families who “do” santa and I respect them; they have grateful, sweet kids.  And there are those, who in self-righteousness (I’m praying I don’t fall into this category), believe that santa is just satan spelled wrong.  To those, I say, I’m all filled up on crazy here, you’ll have to go elsewhere 🙂