The Secret to a Joy-Filled Christmas While Juggling Pinterest-Perfect Holiday Expectations

Photo 78493871 / Christmas Checklist © Julia Sudnitskaya |

My friend, Pam, always said that men believed in Santa Claus because when they woke up Christmas morning, everything had already been done. They neglected to see the behind-the-scenes work: baking, cleaning, shopping, etc.

Know the feeling?

Joy bursts from the Christmas story like fireworks on the Fourth of July. When we still had kids at home, I felt like everyone was bursting with joy—but me. 

The only thing that burst from me was stress. And if you stood too close, you probably caught some too. 

Today, it’s different. Discover the joy of Christmas by following these three steps. 

1. Prioritize. What’s really important to you? 

  • Making memories and being present? (I mean truly present, not exhausted because you pulled an all-nighter setting and decorating the table.) 
  • Or crafting the quintessential social media post? 

My kids don’t remember what our table looked like. They do remember our Christmas Quest and it’s a family legacy today. 

2. Simplify. Some things have to go. Take a look at your to-do list. What can you delegate? What can you modify? What can you cut? Here are a few ideas.

  • Ease holiday baking by participating in a cookie swap. 
  • Swap out the china for paper goods. (Pinterest has Christmas table decorating ideas with, yes, paper plates, and they are Christmas-dinner worthy.) Your company would rather have you at the table with them than slaving over a soapy sink of dishes.
  • Consider giving experiences (tickets, memberships, classes) over physical gifts. Less wrapping and shopping. More memories. 
  • Instead of a traditional holiday meal, have everyone prepare their family favorites. 

3. Focus. Keep Christmas Christ-centered. 

  • Advent.
  • Nativity plays. 
  • Christmas carols. 
  • Daily readings of portions of the Christmas story. 
  • Conversations about the biblical figures who lived the Christmas story. 

The Incarnation calls us to celebrate. To worship. Vigorously. Intentionally. With joy in our hearts. 

Set aside the to-do list and lose yourself in the story.

Walk with Elizabeth and Zechariah through nine months of pregnancy and silence (Luke 1:21-25). 

Feel Joseph’s courage and boldness as he approaches Mary’s father after a dream-filled night (Matthew 1:24). 

Sing the Magnificat with Mary (Luke 1:46-55).

Sing with Zechariah when his silence is finally broken (Luke 1:67-79). 

Fall to your knees and shield your eyes when the heavenly host appears to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-9). 

Walk the Temple grounds with Simeon and Anna as they are led by the Holy Spirit to the infant Jesus (Luke 2:25-38). 

Rejoice with the Magi as the star miraculously reappears (Matthew 2:10). 

And worship. Worship Christ the newborn King!

P.S. Here are a few things to get you going. 

1) This is Whitney Houston singing “Joy to the World” in the movie, The Preacher’s Wife

Best. Version. Ever. 

2) The Chosen Christmas Special

3) Bible Readings of the Christmas Story for December

A Christmas Quiz for You

It’s finals time. As my college student takes his finals, here’s a quiz to test your biblical Christmas knowledge:

  1. How did Mary and Joseph get to Bethlehem?
    a. Chariot
    b. Covered wagon
    c. Donkey
    d. No one knows.
  2. Jesus was born in:
    a. The Bethlehem Inn
    b. A stable
    c. A cave
    d. A manger
  3. The angels told the shepherds to look for:
    a. Three guys on camels
    b. The barn behind the local inn
    c. A baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger
    d. A star
  4. The wise men found Jesus in:
    a. A manger
    b. A stable
    c. A house
    d. An inn
  5. King Herod ordered all boys ages two and under in the area of Bethlehem to be killed because:
    a. He was trying to decrease the population.
    b. He wanted to even out the number of boys and girls.
    c. He wanted to remove the threat of another king.
    d. The moms in Bethlehem made him mad.
  6. Where do we find the Christmas story in the Bible?
    a. Matthew and Luke
    b. Mark and John
    c. Luke
    d. All four gospels
  7. Why did Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem?
    a. Their neighbors were too nosy in Nazareth.
    b. Caesar Augustus issued a decree.
    c. An angel spoke to Joseph in a dream.
    d. Joseph had business in Bethlehem.
  8. Joseph and Mary went to Egypt because:
    a. Egypt had a new Home Depot. Joseph wanted to check it out.
    b. An angelic dream
    c. Mary thought it would be a great field trip for Jesus.
    d. The Magi said the pyramids were cool.
  9. When Mary and Joseph brought Baby Jesus to the Temple, whom did they meet? a. Simeon b. King Herod c. Anna d. a & c
  10. How was the name Jesus chosen?
    a. An angel told Mary
    b. An angel told Joseph
    c. They drew a name from a hat because they couldn’t decide.
    d. a & b


  1. d. No one knows. (Luke 2:4-5)
  2. c. Early tradition says it was probably a cave on the outskirts of town.
  3. c. A baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12)
  4. c. A house (Matthew 2:11)
  5. c. He wanted to remove the threat of another king. (Matthew 2:1-8, 16)
  6. a. Matthew and Luke
  7. b. Caesar Augustus issued a decree. (Luke 2:1-3)
  8. b. (Matthew 2:13-15)
  9. d. a & c (Luke 2:25-38)
  10. d. a & b (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31)

Why is this important? Because we must get it right when it comes to God’s Word. His Word is truth. No fudging.
Merry Christmas!

1) Read through the Christmas narrative before Christmas morning. Take a few verses each day. Start in Luke 1 and catch Zach and Elizabeth’s story. Look at Matthew’s genealogy and note the ladies mentioned. And when you watch your favorite Christmas movies and read your favorite Christmas books, please remind your kids that the Magi were NOT at the stable. They arrived several years later after Mary and Joseph had transitioned to a house.
2) Consider a family charity project like Samaritan Purse’s Christmas boxes or Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree ministry.
3) Have each family member choose one person or figure in the Christmas narrative and imagine what it would have been like for them: Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the shepherds, the angels, the innkeeper, Simeon, Anna, the Magi, King Herod. Who did you choose and why?
4) Celebrate Advent with an Advent wreath. It’s not too late to catch up.

I Believe

Something in the human heart desperately wants to believe. 

We started watching Christmas movies as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers hit the fridge. Miracle on 34th Street has long been one of our favorites. 

I don’t analyze every movie we watch, but this year, things just jumped out at me. Miracle on 34th Street centers on the tension between worldly success represented by Mr. Macy, Mr. Gimbel, and Doris Walker and Fred Gailey’s beloved intangibles fleshed out by Fred, Alfred, and Kris Kringle. Doris and Susie Walker struggle to believe in Kris. Others like little Tommy Mara believe wholeheartedly (because his daddy told him so). We smile and sigh because, all too soon, little Tommy will have to grow up and face the “real” world. 

Yet it’s the real world of “success” that drives belief in the story. Kris’s good will campaign of putting the customer first made Macy’s even more profitable which led to Mr. Macy’s court testimony on Kris’s behalf. The tension between logic and faith, goodwill and profit, judicial jurisprudence and the notion of Santa, drives the open-mindedness that keeps belief alive. What a classic!

We want to believe in a good that prevails. Fairytales, Santa Claus, and superheroes stir our hearts for a reason. We want to know true goodness exists. That when we make the right choice, it will pay off in the end. That our faith has substance. 

Hebrews 11:1-2 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” The next forty verses showcase those who took the plunge. 

Many of us have friends and family who have stopped believing. They’ve been burned, wounded, and bruised by broken humanity and even by the Church. 

Give them a reason to believe again.

Love them. Deeply. In spite of . . .

Love them the way our Jesus loves us. He’ll do the rest, because, like us, they want to believe.

Workout of the Week: I Believe

Memory Verse: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1-2 NIV

Meditation Passage: Hebrews 11

Do It: Give someone a reason to believe again.

The Family Business

ID 63169679 © Sabin Albei |

Son of David. A loaded phrase in Scripture. It came with ties to royalty, future promises of the Messiah, and an eternal kingdom. Consequently, genealogical records were carefully recorded. Genealogies typically read from father to son as seen in Matthew 1:1-17.

However, in Matthew 1:20, when the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, the angel doesn’t address Joseph as Joseph, son of Jacob (as recorded in the genealogy), but as Joseph, son of David, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (emphasis mine).’”

Why does the angel call out Joseph as a son of David?

Several reasons, I think. 

1. The angel emphasized Jesus’ legal tie to David through His adopted father, Joseph.

2. The angel gave Joseph his calling. This scene reminds me of Gideon’s call in Judges 6:12, “When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’” Was this God’s way of calling Joseph to the task of bringing up the Messiah? Of conveying to Joseph that God didn’t see him as an ordinary Joe, but as a son of David who would rear the One to fulfill God’s promises to David of an eternal kingdom?

If the angelic dream wasn’t enough of a wake-up call, the words, “Joseph, son of David,” would certainly have grabbed Joe’s attention. It called him to the family business. Not carpentry, but the Great Commission. An invitation to play a part in the story of salvation, in the fulfillment of God’s promises to David, and in the arrival of the Messiah. 

Joseph, son of David. 

You’re called to the family business too, you know. To what is God calling you?

Workout of the Week: The Family Business

Memory Verse: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (emphasis mine).’” Matthew 1:20

Meditation Passage: Matthew 1

Do It: Where’s your place in the family business?

What’s in a Name?

ID 63229380 © Ian Allenden |

I’m big on names. 

In biblical culture, name often represented character. Think of how many times you speak a child’s name over them. How could that not influence a child? With that in mind, I chose the names of our children carefully: 

Benjamin (son of the right hand) Russell (his father’s name) 

Richard (ruler, leader, powerful) Seth (gift, anointed)

Faith (faith in God) Elyse (after my grandmother, means oath of God)

Lincoln Daniel (named for two men, Abraham Lincoln and the prophet Daniel, who stood their ground against terrible opposition)

Now, my kids do the choosing. As soon as I get the name of the newest family addition, I look up its meaning. Once found, I note it and pray for that grandchild accordingly. 

Joseph and Mary never rifled through a book of baby names. God’s favorite pick came through an angel: 

  • “But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” Luke 1:30-31
  • “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” Matthew 1:20-21
  • “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” Luke 2:21

Note both Joseph and Mary were given God’s chosen name for His son. 

The LORD saves. 




Imagine the crowd of relatives gathered for the naming of the child. To them, the name was common, the yet unfulfilled hope of Messiah. For Joseph and Mary, it was pregnant with meaning. 

Every time Mary called Him for supper, each time Joseph asked Him for a tool, whenever His siblings teased Him, He heard His name—the LORD saves. His name called Him to His task. 

Today we call Him, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”

What’s in a name? Everything. 

Workout for the Week: What’s in a Name?

Memory Verse: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Meditation Passage: Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38

Do it: What does your name mean?