The Happiest Season Of All
mtl Note: Putting God Back in the Holidays has been conceived and designed over 30 years as Dr. Bill Thrasher has spoken to thousands of people, helping them realize the spiritual battle that surrounds their celebration of the holidays. Littered with practical thoughts, ideas, experiences, and stories, Putting God Back in the Holidays will help you and your family celebrate holidays and birthdays with biblical truth in mind.
One look at my calendar (and probably yours, too) will show you a red-inked labyrinth of due dates, appointments, birthdays and anniversaries, and reminders. On the sidebar, there are lists of things to do, people to call, things to buy, and bills to pay. If there’s one thing Americans truly excel at, it’s being busy.
But of course there is more to my calendar than making it past hump day every week, which is why I am currently making myself a student of sacred time. If I am a Christian, Christ should be my axiom, my reference point, guiding all areas of my life and my time is not excluded. But to be honest, I am often selfish with “my” time, which really isn’t mine at all but a gift with which I have been entrusted. God lends me His time and asks that I devote it to Him, yet sometimes I am “too busy” in my mornings to pay Him any attention, or I become annoyed with someone who needs to talk, viewing them as an interruption rather than an opportunity for ministry.
If each day is a gift, how does one become a good steward of the time God has given us? Are we ticking off our days like items off our to-do list or are we moving with purpose, pushing forward, gaining momentum as we run headlong toward the Kingdom of God? Do our weeks demonstrate the commotion of the rat race, or a liturgical lifestyle, one that gracefully cycles through seasons of anticipation, repentance, and celebration?
As I read Putting God Back in the Holidays: Celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Birthdays, and 12 Other Special Occasions with Purpose, I am reminded and reassured that I do not live aimlessly but purposefully as a child of God with a significant role to play in an eternal scope. Written by Bill and Penny Thrasher, Putting God Back in the Holidays illuminates how we can live out our year intentionally by celebrating our holidays with spiritual purpose.
What’s at Stake: The Battle Underlying our Holidays
According to the Thrashers, many holidays have drifted from their spiritual moorings, pulled away by a variety of distractions: consumerism, political correctness, party-planning stress and out of town guests. The materialism of Christmas clouds our focus with decadent distraction. Additionally, for many people, Thanksgiving and Christmas usher in a season of grief rather than of joy because of the loss of a loved one, a family crisis, or personal struggles.
On account of these issues and others, Bill Thrasher believes that holidays are surrounded by a distinct spiritual battle. As Christians enter the holiday season in late fall, preparing for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, they are presented with a unique opportunity for community, worship, and reflection of what God has done for them and will continue to do in the future. This is a pivotal point in time for God’s people to draw close to Him, but the truth is we have an Enemy who actively opposes our worship of the Father. And if these holidays are communal celebrations of what God has done, Thrasher concludes, such holidays will be Satan’s targets.
After taking note of the exhaustion he and his wife felt as the holidays approached, Bill Thrasher says, “For many, the myriad of our family, work, and church obligations during these times deplete physical, emotional, and mental energy.” Being at such a low point makes us spiritually vulnerable and disrupts our attention to the spiritual significance of the season. The time God has set aside for peace, worship, and rest is distorted. After 30 years of ministry experience and practicing holiday traditions within his own family, Bill Thrasher’s learning on the subject culminates in this practical, pastoral book.
Remembering What God Has Done
Out of all the Old Testament law, it has always fascinated me that one of God’s commandments for His people is to celebrate. The same God that dwelled in fire on His holy mountain and sent plagues upon Egypt commanded His people on certain days of the year to lay down their work, feast, celebrate, and worship. In other words, Jehovah God declared a national holiday, a landmark of remembrance for the Israelites to recall His mighty works of the past and to teach their children the significance of the day.
In Putting God Back in the Holidays, The Thrashers encourage their readers to follow the same tradition: remember God’s blessings to us, and impart the importance of thanking and seeking Him to our children. They illustrate from their own family many creative ways to commemorate God’s working: reading from a family journal of God’s blessings at Thanksgiving, giving gifts to Jesus as Christmastime, or writing New Year’s spiritual goals together. Such external practices arrange an internal spiritual focus, and cultivate the significance of the season in our children. Bill and Penny make it clear they do not expect you to duplicate their traditions in your family, but each chapter includes practical tips and ideas to get you thinking.
Resisting the Rush to Dwell in Christ’s Presence
In Thrasher’s opinion, the spiritual, physical, and emotional pressures of the holidays should give us all the more reason to draw near to Christ during this hectic time. Thrasher gives the well-known example of Martha, who served her guests hand and foot while resenting her sister who got to sit and visit with Christ. “Luke 10:38-42 is not technically a story about Christmas,” Thrasher writes, “but it provides us with some helpful insight into celebrating this holiday.” Thrasher notes that Martha did the right thing by inviting Christ into her home as an honored guest, but she also missed the point by not enjoying His presence. Instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet like her sister Mary, Luke says Martha was “distracted with much serving.”
This story inspired the Thrashers to start a new family tradition: every year around Christmas, they have a grand meal at which an extra table setting is placed at the head of the table. To the Thrashers, this is a tangible reminder of the presence of Christ in their lives and home, and as they celebrate Christmas they direct their prayers to their Special Guest and ask for His direction for their holiday. Penny Thrasher writes that two key questions are asked: What are Your priorities for us during this holiday? How would You have us minister to others during this season?
Dwelling with Christ not only influences those within the home, but everyone your lives intersect with because as you seek the Lord He fills you to serve. Serving like Martha before you have abided with Christ like Mary is like running on empty, a feeling far too many women are familiar with. We can’t do it all in our own strength, and we become bitter or resentful of others when we try. Thrasher encourages his readers to return to the Source of our strength, “When Christ is the honored guest of your holiday celebrations, His love will flow to you and through you.” And our small act of service may not be noticed or even appreciated, but “if [Christ] prompts it and empowers it, it will be remembered and rewarded forever.”
Reclaiming God’s Purpose for the Holidays
The holidays can be a whirlwind of stressful activity or a powerful anchor for the soul, touchstones throughout the calendar year that serve to remind us of the glorious God we celebrate. As I approach this year’s holiday season, I intend to follow the Thrasher’s advice by slowing down, reflecting, listening, and abiding in Christ. I know that these goals will be challenged from every angle, but take heart that the battle at hand is an opportunity “to let the Lord draw you into a deeper surrender of yourself and all the details of the occasion to Him.” It is my hope that this year that each holiday meal that is prepared, each Thanksgiving prayer that is prayed, and each Advent candle that is lit will teach me, as God taught the ancient Israelites, to remember His providence in the past and rely on His goodness for the future.
Bill Thrasher is professor of Bible and Theology at the Moody Graduate School of Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute. He is a frequent speaker for churches and retreats across the country. His experience covers pastoral internships, campus discipleship ministry, singles ministry, and evangelism ministry. Bill and his wife, Penny, live in the Chicago area.
Penny Thrasher was raised in a home given to hospitality and feels privileged to carry on that tradition, especially in hosting large holiday celebrations. She contributed to her husband’s book, Believing God for His Best—How to Marry Contentment and Singleness. Penny is in her 17th year of home schooling and enjoys serving in their church, being part of a prayer group which supports missionaries, and mentoring younger women. Bill and Penny have three sons, Will, Michael, and David.