"Truly he taught us to love one another.
His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break,
for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease."
—Adolph Adam, 1847
When people ask me "What's your favorite Christmas song?," my answer is a bit unconventional. I always reply, "‘O Holy Night,’ the last verse. You know, the one nobody ever does." Many people don't realize that the song has four verses, but for me, the last one encapsulates the entire Jesus story—why God came to be with us as a helpless infant, why Jesus grew up to preach a word of love so radical that his neighbors tried to throw him off a cliff, why he was crucified.
In this year riddled with death, suffering, and anxiety, many parents have been asking how to make Christmas special. The first and most important thing I tell them is to speak the truth about Jesus and why he came.
Our beloved Christmas pageant versions of the story of Jesus' birth, while charming, often obscure what is truly beautiful about the story. Scripture tells us that Jesus came into a world awash in fear. We know something about that this year, even the youngest among us.
How many of the specifics we tell will need to vary, but even very young children can hear that when Jesus came, the Jewish people were being treated poorly by those who were in charge, and they were afraid, and that God loved them so much that God came as a tiny baby to set them free and to set the whole world free from all the things they do to hurt each other and the planet.
For younger children, I suggest reading only the story as it appears in Luke (2:1-20). Kids eight and up often enjoy comparing and contrasting the story as it appears in Luke and Matthew's gospels.
The second recommendation I give is to choose one thing to do that brings familiarity and one thing that brings wonder. Please don't try to do all the things you do every other year, both for your own sanity and because this year isn't the same, and our kids know it. We owe them the truth, both of how things are now and how Jesus shows up for us in the midst of it all.
So choose one thing that is a time-honored tradition for your family or congregation and try to replicate it as best you safely can. And then choose one thing totally surprising—maybe it's waking up at midnight to read the gospel story under the stars. Maybe everyone drives to the church parking lot for carols and cocoa in their cars. I don't know exactly what it will be for you, but I highly suggest asking teens for recommendations! Their combination of pragmatism and youthful exuberance will stand you in good stead.
Lastly, I recommend doing something to bring wonder to someone else. Perhaps a call on Christmas morning from your children to the homebound members of your church. Or letters to inmates in your local correctional facility, or a late-night delivery of milk and cookies to your 911 operators. Whatever it is, I urge you to be bold and allow the children to take the lead as they enact the wideness of God's mercy and the radical love that burst forth into a weary world desperately in need of both comfort and joy.