As a kid, I remember sitting down in mid-November each year to write two Christmas lists. The first was for Santa, to be sent away to his North Pole address (postal code: HOH OHO). The second was for my family. The latter would get put up on the refrigerator door with a fridge magnet for the next six weeks, alongside similar wish lists from my twin sister and two brothers. Each of us would return to those lists many times throughout December as we planned out what gifts we would find for each other.
Thus began my understanding of Christmas as a time when we both give and receive. I looked forward to the gifts under the tree with my name on the tag, but I also looked forward to the reaction of my siblings and parents when they opened the gifts that I had carefully chosen and wrapped for them.
Christmas as a time of giving and receiving is embedded in our understanding of the celebration. At this time of year, we remind ourselves, “It’s better to give than to receive” and we talk about “the joy of giving.” The practice of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas also helps us to be more generous and compassionate with others. Just as we are mindful of the many blessings we have received, we also remember those who are less fortunate. Christmas is a “season of giving” in which we share what we have with others. If you haven’t done so already this season, I would urge you to be generous in support of your parish as well as charitable organizations in your community – especially this year when life is so difficult for so many. For Christians, this spirit of giving is inspired by the most important gift we have received: Jesus, the Christ, born for us in a manger in Bethlehem all those years ago.
As important as the giving and receiving is this season, I want to suggest another way for us to celebrate Christmas. And that is by simple adoration: “O come, let us adore him” is the refrain in one of the favourite Christmas carols. So, what does it mean to adore Christ? Well, there is nothing busy or frenetic or transactional about adoration. We don’t have to search for it at the shopping mall or wait for it to arrive on the porch by Amazon. It’s not wrapped up under the tree or cooked alongside the Christmas turkey.
Rather, the act of adoration slows us down and helps us to focus on the essence of Christmas. Very simply, adoration is an attitude of profound love and reverence. To adore something or someone means to fix the gaze of our heart and soul on something so precious that it exceeds everything else. For followers of Jesus, adoration means basking in the glory of what God has done for us. At Christmas, we adore Christ by seeking to take in the mystery of the Incarnation – that God loved the world so much that God sent his only Son for the salvation of the world. (John 3:16)
Adoration is more passive than active. But make no mistake – adoration changes us! To acknowledge with such love what God has done can move us away from ingratitude and self-centredness and open us to the wonderful possibilities of the world around. The adoration of Christ can reinvigorate us for the work of the gospel and transform our lives anew in Christ’s service. The Canadian Anglican writer J.I. Packer once wrote, “The life of true holiness is rooted in the soil of awed adoration.”
So how do we cultivate the soil of awed adoration? Many things can prompt a spirit of adoration from within us. For me, it’s helpful to find a quiet place where I can sit with a particular image or prayer or piece of scripture. Adoration also stirs within me when I’m out walking in the beauty of creation or plugged into some of my favourite music. It may also be helpful to step out of the rush of this season for a time, to tune out the many distractions, and give our whole attention to the contemplation of the majesty of God. Wherever adoration takes us, it ideally grounds us in the great mystery of God, and in God’s amazing love for us in Jesus Christ.
After a couple of years of more muted celebrations due to the pandemic, many of us are more than ready to return to some more familiar patterns of celebrating this season. As we go about the hurrying and scurrying once again this year, may we take time to slow down, step back, and adore Christ. For in Christ we have life in all its fullness. Merry Christmas!