Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas
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Dennis and Barbara RaineyDennis and Barbara Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Their 43+ years of leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries. Together they have spoken at over 150 Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways and authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples, Staying Close, A Symphony in the Dark, and Barbara’s most recent, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife...more
Christmas will be here soon, and Dennis and Barbara Rainey share fun, simple ideas to help you get ready spiritually.
Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas
Bob: As you raise your children, what’s your number-one priority? What’s the most important thing you should be doing? Here’s Dennis Rainey.
Dennis: Our assignment from Almighty God is to introduce our children to God: “How do we do that?” Well, we do it, as it talks about in Deuteronomy 6, as we walk by the way, as we rise up, as we lie down. As Christmas comes around, you have the opportunity at that point to begin to remind children of who Jesus Christ really is, and take their hand in yours and begin to place it in God’s hand.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 25th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Dennis and Rainey Barbara are back with us today to talk about how, as parents, we can make the most of the next 30 days leading up to Christmas. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. Once upon a time, there was a day, back in the history of FamilyLife Today, when there was an embargo—you couldn’t talk about one holiday until another one was past. You couldn’t talk about Christmas until Thanksgiving had come around. Thanksgiving, of course, is this Thursday.
However, the rules have changed; and part of it is because we have a late Thanksgiving this year, which means you have a late start to the Christmas season; and Advent is going to be here before we know it.
Guess who else is here before we know it? Dennis and Barbara Rainey are back with us, again, on FamilyLife Today.
Dave and Ann: Woo-hoo! [Laughter]
Ann: I like it!
Dennis: I was going to ask if I could say something about why the rules have changed! [Laughter] The one who made the rule is gone, and it wasn’t me!—it was sweet Barbara!
Barbara: Except I didn’t make it a rule; I just said, “I would prefer…” [Laughter]
Dave: That’s a rule. [Laughter]
Barbara: I learned; yes; yes.
Bob: Guys, welcome back. Always good to have you here on FamilyLife Today.
Barbara: Well, thank you.
Bob: Again, we know this is a time of year that is important and meaningful for you. For listeners who don’t know—over the last nine months, you have continued to write and to speak; and the “Ever Thine Home” blog continues. I still get emails regularly—yes, I am on the email list. Folks who’d like more information about what you’re doing at Ever Thine Home® can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
But because Advent is about to start, and it’s going to start just a couple of days after Thanksgiving is over this year, we thought we ought to help families get ready for, Barbara, what you think is one of the most strategic seasons in a family’s life, year in and year out. I just have to say—as you have adult children and you ask them to reflect back on their childhood memories, the things that most often will come up are holiday memories and vacation memories.
Dennis: That’s right.
Bob: Yes; it’s those special celebrations where the family kind of turns their attention to one another.
That’s part of the reason why you think, when it comes to the Thanksgiving season/the Christmas season, moms and dads ought to say, “We have a gospel opportunity here, and we ought not to just let this slide by.”
Barbara: You said it perfectly, because I have believed that for years. Even when we were raising our kids, I remember thinking: “I need to do something to help them understand what Christmas is about—that Christmas is about Jesus. It’s not about Santa and the reindeer and all these other things. How do I do that?”
I was so busy and overwhelmed with life that I had a hard time figuring out what that was. I knew there was something missing in our Christmas celebrations. In my empty-nest years was when I finally had the bandwidth in my life to be able to think through, “How do I help families bring Jesus back into the holidays in a way that I used to want it but couldn’t find it?”
Because Advent is coming up—it’s this Sunday—and it used to sneak up on me all the time. All of a sudden, I would realize, “We missed the first week; we’re already behind.” I would, of course, beat myself up for that. But we’re going to get ahead of it for you/for listeners today and say, “Advent is coming up, and we have an idea for you of something that you could do with your family that would help you put the focus on Christ this Christmas.”
Bob: The first Sunday in Advent is this Sunday. Some folks aren’t familiar with the Advent season, because it’s not been a part of their traditional church calendar; but for years, Christians have marked the four Sundays leading up to Christmas as the four Sundays in Advent, taking time to highlight different aspects of the incarnation at a church service. I don’t know that families necessarily made Advent central to what they were doing at home, but that’s a part of what you’re hoping families will do; right?
Barbara: Well, because a lot of churches don’t have that emphasis, I think it’s a great opportunity for families to put that emphasis in your home. It doesn’t mean that you have to do a lot/you have to add a lot, because everybody’s busy at Christmas anyway. This is not that hard to do, and I’m trying to create something that’s easy for moms to just add into the routine.
Bob: Well, and if you think to yourself, “I don’t need one more thing,” stop and ask yourself, “Of all the things I have, what are the ones that ought to be there and what are the ones I can drop?” I think sometimes the tyranny of the culture robs us from the opportunities to talk about what we ought to be talking about.
Ann: I think, especially as young moms, I know that I wanted to bring Jesus in; but you’re so taxed. You’re trying to meet everybody’s needs; you’re Christmas shopping; you’re decorating; so for someone to say, “Here are some things that you could do to bring into your home,” that is so helpful—like: “You’re helping us to bring Jesus in.” What does that look like?
Barbara: The idea that I have specifically for Advent is—we created a set of ornaments, a few years ago, that are called “His Advent Names.” The ornaments that I’ve created over the last six or seven years are all about the names of Jesus; because if you want to get to know someone, you start by knowing that person’s name. If I’d never met you before, I’d say, “Hi, I’m Barbara; what’s your name?” We start by getting to know someone through their names.
We have this series of ornaments that are all the names of Jesus; but this one particular set has four round ornaments that are each a globe, and they each have a different name of Jesus on them. You can open a bag—I have them in bags, here, on the table. Ann was talking about our table being kind of cluttered since there are five of us here. I brought just simple lunch sacks, and I put one of these ornaments in each of the sacks. I glittered a number, 1-4, on the outside.
If I had kids, I would set those up, maybe on the fireplace mantel/maybe on the kitchen table. On the first Sunday of Advent, we would open the first sack and pull out the ornament and talk about that name/that name of Jesus: “Why is it important for us to know that Jesus is the Light? What does that mean? How does that help us know who He is and what He does for us?”
Dave: Are we allowed to do this?—I love opening Christmas gifts! [Shaking the bag]
Bob: So you pulled out the first globe.
Dave: “Jesus is the Light.” Beautiful, too; look at that!
Ann: And then it has the Scripture reference on the back, too.
Barbara: It has the verse on the back, yes.
Dave: “I am the light of the world.”
Bob: When you say it’s a globe; it’s the world.
Barbara: It’s literally the world; it has the continents on it.
Bob: Yes; we’re seeing that Jesus is the Light of the world and have an opportunity to talk about Jesus, not just on a personal level, but on a global level.
Ann: Yes; tell us what that conversation would look like.
Barbara: Well, each of the sets of ornaments comes with a little book; and there’s a story for each of the four names. The easiest thing to do would be to pull the ornament out, just like Dave did; have one of your kids read the name and read the verse. If the kids aren’t old enough to read, then one of the parents can read the story; or if you have an older elementary or a teenager, you can have them read the story, and then talk about it. Ask a couple of questions to help your kids engage with that name of Jesus.
Bob: Having four sacks like this on the mantel, or on the dining room table, throughout the Christmas season, you know what little kids are doing.
Bob: Right? What are they doing?
Barbara: “Is today the day?”
Ann: They can’t wait to open it and, then, to open the next one!
Bob: Right. Every day, they’re going to say, “Is today the day we open the sack?” “No, you have to wait until Sunday,” or whatever you designate is going to be there. But their attention/their curiosity is drawn to that, and they’re excited about what’s coming.
Barbara: One of the reasons I think that’s so good for us to help our kids feel that is because anticipation is a key part of having faith. What is faith?—well, we’re believing in a God that we can’t see, but we know He’s real. Someday we know we’ll see Him; so if we’re anticipating that, we’re exercising our faith.
I think that our kids, as they anticipate each Sunday and opening a new ornament and learning about Jesus, I think that’s beginning to help them understand that our faith is a anticipatory faith. We’re looking forward to God’s redemption of us; and making us whole; and healing us of our diseases, and our sin, and making a new place for us one day.
Dennis: I want to go back to the big picture of what the purpose of being a parent is. Our assignment from Almighty God is to introduce our children to God: “How do we do that?” We do it, as it talks about in Deuteronomy 6, as we walk by the way, as we rise up, as we lie down, as we write these matters on the doorposts of our house. We don’t have that tradition today, but we do have ornaments. As Christmas comes around, you have the opportunity at that point to begin to remind children of who Jesus Christ really, really is; and take their hand in yours and begin to place it in God’s hand.
What really troubled Barbara—I watched this happen; she began to stew about this—and say, “Man, all of this stuff we have—the candy canes, the reindeer, the Santa Clauses, the snowflakes, all this stuff—what’s it about?!” It’s about a secular holiday.
But this holiday is about the Advent: the first Advent of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the One who came to this planet to give up His life on my behalf/your behalf. I think it’s where we begin to implant the reality of the gospel in our children’s lives. It’s not just a story about a baby born in a manger; it’s a grand story about how the universe completely changed its game when Jesus showed up.
Bob: Can I grab the soapbox from you here for just a second?
Ann: I don’t know, but I’m inspired. [Laughter]
Bob: Earlier this year, I had the opportunity at our church to preach through the Book of 1 John. It was fascinating to spend weeks, soaking in the writing of 1 John, and seeing that John says, “If you want to test your faith and see if it’s authentic faith/to see if you have the real thing, you need to first understand what the message of the gospel is.” He said there are really three tests you look at to determine if your faith is genuine faith. The first is: “Do you have an impulse toward obedience? Are you drawn to wanting to obey God and His Word?” If you don’t, you don’t have the real thing; because God’s children want to obey Him.
The second is: “Do you have an impulse to want to love God and love others?”
The third test—and this is what was interesting—the third test is the test of belief. John says things like, “Anyone who says Jesus has come in the flesh is a child of God; anyone who denies that Jesus has come in the flesh is not a child of God.” In our day—this is what I started to recognize—we have people, who are saying: “You know, the belief stuff is really not what’s most important. What’s most important is that you love other people or that you live a good life.”
Now, I think living a good life and loving other people is an essential part of the gospel; but John says, “No, if the belief part’s not there, you’re not a child of God.” I bring that up because the Christmas season is about the incarnation; it’s about God coming in human flesh and taking on humanity and then living a perfect life and dying a death as our substitute. John says: “if you don’t get that—if you don’t get Jesus right, you don’t have the faith right. You may be a kind, loving person; you may be a person who has good character and lives according to the rules; but if you don’t believe what the Bible teaches about who Jesus is—God in human flesh, come as a baby in a manger—you don’t have authentic faith.”
So for us, as parents, to be saying, “We need to be helping to teach our kids who it is that came at Christmas and understand who He is; because authentic faith requires that they come to a point, where they say, ‘I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.’” John says, “I wrote the Gospel of John: ‘These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in His name you would have eternal life.’”
That’s why this is so important for parents to get involved, using tools like this at Christmastime, so our kids don’t just grow up thinking, “Well, being a Christian is about being good or about being loving.” No; it’s about believing in God, and trusting God, and following Him.
Ann: It can become a lifestyle—that this is a conversation, not just during the Advent season, but during our whole lives; that it’s a conversation that we’re talking about Jesus. It’s the greatest story there is; and it’s the gospel, and it changes lives.
Dennis: Christmas gives you, in terms of volleyball, a set to a spike.
Dennis: The season is consumed with something. People may not know Who that something is. You have the chance to tell them it’s about the King!
Here’s where I’m so proud of Barbara; because she’s done all the research on this and made this as simple as you can make it so that parents can spike it. When she started studying the names of Christ, I thought, “That was nice,”—I really did. But then she started saying: “There are over 300 names in the Bible; some scholars believe 300 names that describe Him!”
Is there something about the name that is above all names? Is there something there? What about how the Bible concludes with this rider on a white horse?—it’s the King of kings, the Lord of lords, who has a name on His thigh that no one knows but Him; there’s something about the name. There really is something about the name. I think we’d do well to take our kids and to draw them near to the One—who is above all things; who has all authority in heaven and earth—and remind them that He became God in flesh to die for us. It’s not a fairy-tale; it’s a real story.
Bob: I just want to encourage parents: “When you pull out of a paper sack an ornament that says, “Jesus is the Light of the world,” and you think, “Well, I don’t know what to do or what to say. Okay, that’s what it says; now what do I do?” It’s very simple to say to your kids, “So, what do you think that means?” and see what they say; and then to say, “What does it mean that He’s the Light? What’s the difference between light and darkness? What do you think that’s talking about? Why do you think He’s the Light of the world and not just the Light of our home?”
All of a sudden, you’ve had a little conversation that causes them to go: “Huh, I wonder what that does mean. I wonder what that…” and they’re thinking bigger about Jesus at that point.
Ann: Then you could take it to the next step and say: “You know what? He said we are the light of the world. What does that look like?”
Bob: Yes, that’s right. You can follow this trail for as long as it takes you, and then say, “Let’s memorize that.” The verse is right there on the ornament; so “Let’s memorize that.” John 8:12 says: “Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”
If your kids are little, just memorize, “I am the light of the world.” If they’re bigger, memorize the whole verse. But you have no idea how planting a seed like that in the heart of a child—“Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life,”—you don’t know how that Scripture is going to come back when that child is
19 years old and off at college. “Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness,” and they’ll go: “Huh, that’s just kind of ringing in my ear. The Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder with that one.”
I know that the idea of Jesus being the Light of the world is something that kind of came alive for you guys when you were in the middle of a cornfield in—was it Illinois or Indiana?
Bob: Kentucky; okay.
Barbara: Yes; Dennis and I were on vacation in the summer of 2017. It was the same week that the total solar eclipse was going to happen in the United States. Of course, there were lots of things in the newspaper and people were talking about it. The weekend before, there was this article in the newspaper. We picked it up and read it; and I thought: “I want to see this thing. We’re on vacation; why not?” I showed it to—
Dennis: I’ll tell you why not! We were in Michigan! [Laughter] We were in Michigan.
Dave: —not Kentucky, huh?
Dennis: She’s wanting to make a hard right turn south; okay?
Barbara: Yes, it was not on our plans. It was definitely a spontaneous moment, which I don’t have a lot of.
Dennis: Oh, that’s not true.
Barbara: Anyway, so he read the article and he said: “Okay, I’m game; let’s do this.” We hopped in our car and drove south. We ended up in a—it was quite a challenge going across the Ohio River, by the way, too, because there’s only one bridge at this place and thousands of cars were trying to cross the Ohio River at the same time.
But we got there; we found a field in Kentucky. We pulled out on this dirt road, parked the car, popped the back of my car up, and we had this nifty little app on our phone that counted down to the solar eclipse. We had just loaded it; it calculates your GPS, where you are, and it tells you exactly when you can look at the sun. We had our little paper glasses—the whole thing.
You know, at first—because we were there 45 minutes ahead, and there was nothing to see—but as it got closer and closer, the anticipation—we’ve been talking about that—the anticipation began to mount. We could start seeing changes, as they predicted, in the environment around us. It got closer and closer; and all of a sudden, our app said, “Ten, nine, eight…” It counted down. Dennis and I are just by ourselves. Here we are—out in this field; the two of us—we’re staring at the sky with these paper glasses on, and we’re watching what’s left of the sun go away.
All of a sudden, it was, “One, zero,” and it was black. We could see nothing with our glasses. And then the app said, “You may take your glasses off.” We both took our glasses off, and I cannot tell you how amazing it was. I was absolutely speechless; I started crying. I read in the newspaper that people cry over this; I thought, “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.” But I did!
I was just overcome, because you cannot look at the sun and see the corona. The corona is the glory of the sun. When we saw the glory of the sun—and I think the reason it was emotional is because, instantly, we knew that’s what it’s going to be like to see Jesus. What happened to the disciples when they saw Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration?—they were in awe. They fell to their feet, because they saw His glory.
We can’t see His glory on earth; but when we saw the sun, and we saw that corona, it was stunning; it was gorgeous; it was overwhelming. It made me realize Jesus is the sun of righteousness—He’s called that in Malachi. When He comes back, He will come back in His glory; and we will see Him as He is.
Bob: You guys already have reservations for 2024.
Barbara: We do—2024. [Laughter]
Dennis: —with our entire family: to do it together as a family.
Ann: Where is it?
Barbara: It will be in Arkansas.
Barbara: It starts in Mexico and goes north to Maine, but—
Dave: The way you described it, we’re going to be there. We’re going to be part of the Rainey family.
Barbara: You just have to be there.
But see, this is what we need to help our children begin to feel in Advent. We’re anticipating—remembering that Christ came the first time; He came as a baby—but He’s going to come again. Anticipation is very important in our faith, and Christmas is an opportunity to do that.
Dave: It’s like an hors d’oeuvre! I mean, you just get a glimpse—
Dennis: That’s exactly it.
Dave: —Christmas is like the appetizer. You’re not even—but you’re helping your children anticipate.
Dennis: You haven’t seen Him as He is.
Dennis: Here’s a picture of how He is in Revelation, Chapter 22: “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will have no need of light, of lamp, or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” That’s the Word of God. That’s the promise; that’s the reality.
Bob: Well, and if you want your kids to be ready for that, and to be excited about that, we can help make that happen as parents. The resources, Barbara, that you created to help us with that are really some amazing resources.
In fact, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out about “His Advent Names,” the collection of Adorenaments® that Barbara Rainey has created, along with other resources that are available during the holiday season. Again, there’s a link at our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, that will take you to Barbara’s website, EverThineHome.com, and you can find out all of the resources that Barbara has created. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more.
You know, our team put together a resource designed for smaller children—for preschool and elementary-school age kids—called “The Twelve Names of Christmas™,” where we took a dozen of the names of Jesus and made some kid-friendly ornaments that they can use during the holiday season. There’s an ornament that is a door, so we can talk about how John’s Gospel says Jesus is the Door; there’s an ornament that is a vine/a grapevine, Jesus is the Vine; He’s the Living Water; the Light of the World; the Bright Morning Star; the Good Shepherd; the King of kings—a dozen ornaments, all designed to help our kids understand who Jesus is.
This week, if you make a donation to help support this ministry, we’ll send you a set of “The Twelve Names of Christmas,” these kid-friendly ornaments, as our thank-you gift for your support of this ministry. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to make a donation online, or call 1-800-FLTODAY to donate over the phone. When you donate, you’re helping us reach more people more regularly with practical biblical help and hope for marriage and for family. We’re grateful for your ongoing financial support of this daily radio program. Donate at FamilyLifeToday.com; and again, there’s information on our website about the work that Barbara Rainey is doing and the resources she has available at her Ever Thine Home website.
Now, tomorrow, we’ll talk more about how we can make the most of the holiday season and point our kids and our own hearts in the right direction as we celebrate the birth of Jesus this season.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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