This is a Christmas post, I promise....
My wife and I love to play games. From simple card games to Settlers of Catan to even more "advanced" strategy games, we think games are a wonderful way to spend an evening as a couple and as a family. With growing children (ages 8, 6, and 3), we're obviously at different stages of game playing with them. (I mean, how many games of Candy Land can you stomach?!) But our 8-year-old is beginning to be ready for more advanced games. One of the first things he needs to know as we explain the rules to a game is the answer to the question "How do you win?" Or, perhaps more broadly, "What's the goal?" Or maybe better yet, "What's the point?" The answer to those questions creates a framework for understanding all the other rules and how they will help him win (or make it harder to do so).
In some ways, those questions are important questions for us to ask as parents: "How do you ‘win?’ What's the goal? What's the point?" Now, maybe we wouldn't speak of "winning" at parenting (or is that a meme I saw somewhere...?). Maybe it would be more appropriate to speak in the same terms as the Family Faith Legacy series we use at Trinity: How do we "Begin with the End in Mind?" We want to have an "ultimate goal" for our children. That goal would the complete the statement, "I don't care what else my child's future looks like, I want this one thing for them."
Our ultimate goal for our children determines the choices we make for them and guides how we help them learn to make decisions. It forms how we want them to view themselves and the world around them. Different families may have different "ultimate goals" for their children, but as a Christian parent, I believe my "ultimate goal" for my children is for them to continue growing in their faith in Jesus. The first question I (should) ask in my decisions and interactions with them is something like, "Will this help them see themselves and the world as God sees them? Will this help them be a 'better' disciple of Jesus in their faith or life?"
When we "begin with the end in mind," it's going to shape our parenting from day one (or at least maybe from here on out).
Alright, so what does that all have to do with Christmas?
Well, the season leading up to Christmas is a season called Advent, which means "arrival" or "coming." And our minds quite naturally go to God's advent (His "arrival" or "coming") among us as God the Son is born with the name "Jesus" at Bethlehem. That's the whole reason for Christmas––to remember and celebrate the birth of the Savior.
A Christmas celebration focused on Jesus being born to live, die, and rise again for us is how we "begin with the end in mind" during this season.
Far too often (yes, even for a pastor), that "end" can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the season. We might tell ourselves we're doing it all to help us celebrate, but are we really? Not that it's "not OK" to give gifts, go to parties, and decorate if every thought isn't tuned towards God in those moments. But does all the extra "stuff" of the season crowd out your time to read the Bible or have family devotions or prayer? Does it leave time for extra chances to worship the God who was born a man--Jesus?! Does it leave time for quiet moments to contemplate the wonderful sacredness and mysteriousness of the season? Does it leave time to consider just why the Creator of the universe was born as a baby in a backwater Judean hamlet 2,000 years ago?!
Indeed, what was the goal, the end, the point of Christmas?
Wonderfully, that's where the season of Advent is also meant to point us. Advent points us beyond the Christmas cradle to Calvary's cross. Advent points us beyond the angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest!" to the angels at (empty) tomb saying, "He is not here! He is risen!" Advent points us beyond God becoming flesh to that now-enfleshed God returning to the Father in heaven. And Advent ultimately points us beyond Christ's first coming in the womb of Mary and the manger of Bethlehem to His final coming. Advent points us from God in the flesh to all believers in Christ raised again to live in the flesh in God's presence forever in a new creation.
Wow! Advent invites me once again to ponder the baby in Bethlehem's manger–– and there see the ultimate framework of my life, the ultimate framework of all reality.
Advent reminds me that I have a hope and a joy beyond the ups and downs of this life, beyond the day-to-day frustrations and busy-ness. It reminds me that God's love for me means so much more than how much "stuff" I have or how "happy" I feel in a given moment.
Advent reminds me that I was important enough to God for Him to be born as one of us and even die for me.
And so, Advent reminds me to "begin with the end in mind" every day and in every area of my life.
OK. That's a lot. So how about this for just one step today? As a parent, consider what "end" you have in mind for your child(ren). What's the one thing you'd want them to have if everything else were stripped away? Think about it. Talk about it. Pray about it. Maybe even write it down. And then, each day by God's grace, take small, simple steps in leading your child(ren) in that direction. Some days that will be easier than others. Some days you'll do it "better" than others. But God's got grace enough for the difficult and bad days. After all, the "end" He has in mind for you is you spending eternity with Him through faith in Jesus. And He's with you to see it through.
Happy Advent! Merry Christmas!