It’s coming. The signs are already appearing, and you should consider yourself warned. Your family is about to be attacked. No, it won’t be the physical attack of terrorism, a hurricane, or a forest fire. No, this attack is much more subtle, seductive, and attractive, but infinitely more dangerous.
Your family is about to be attacked by a holiday season.
Maybe you’re thinking, What in the world is Paul Tripp talking about? Let me explain.
The Advent season is upon us. It should be a gloriously peaceful time of remembering God’s ultimate response to his lost and rebellious image-bearers. That response wasn’t to condemn, but to give the ultimate gift of grace—the gift of himself—in the person of his Son. But instead of a peaceful season of worship and celebration, Advent has devolved into a spiritual war with your family at the center.
I have no problem with beautiful decorations, family feasting, or giving gifts. The Christmas season can be a time when families gather again, renew relationships, and express love for one another. But I’m concerned because there is a war for which story will define our children’s beliefs about who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about.
There is a war for which story will define our children’s beliefs about who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about.
Every human being lives out of the meaning of some defining story. The Advent season has become a battle between two stories—one seductive and attractive, but fundamentally untrue; and the other deeply humbling, but what every person everywhere needs.
False Christmas Story
The “Christmas story” the surrounding culture tells our children puts them at the center, the place for God and God alone. It looks to creation for fulfillment rather than worship of the Creator. It makes physical pleasure our primary need rather than the rescuing intervention of the Redeemer. It’s dominated by the comforts of the moment rather than eternal priorities.
In every way, the story your children will hear over and over again during this season is dangerously wrong when it comes to who they are and what they need. It calls them to find comfort where comfort can’t be found, to place their hope in things that will never deliver, to think they can accomplish what only the Messiah can do.
True Advent Story
But unlike this false “Christmas story,” the true “Advent Story” is humbling and unattractive. It’s a sad story about a world terribly broken by sin, populated by self-centered rebels who are willing participants in their own destruction. It’s about beings created to live for God but who in every way live for themselves. This story is about the dethroning of the Creator and the enthroning of his creation. It’s about conditions so desperate that God did the unthinkable, sending his Son to be the sacrificial Lamb of redemption. And why did Jesus come? Because we were so lost, so enslaved, so self-deceived that there simply was no other way.
You see, until your children hear and understand the bad news, the good news won’t be attractive to them. The news that Jesus came on a glorious mission of grace to live, die, and rise in our place is only worth celebrating when you understand it’s your only hope.
Fight the Real War
The battle of Advent isn’t about whether we should sing silly seasonal tunes versus gospel carols, or have worship times versus big family feasts. No, this war is about what story of identity, need, meaning, and purpose your children will believe and give their hearts to pursue.
Life really is a battle of stories, and the battle rages most fiercely when the true story is meant to be told most loudly.
Enjoy the gifts, the decorations, and the delicacies, but start preparing your family early this year for the battle to come by telling them the true story.
So enjoy the gifts, the decorations, and the delicacies, but start preparing your family early this year for the battle to come by telling them the true story. Before you begin to get distracted by all the traditions of holiday fun, take up the battle for the hearts of your children.
5 Weapons to Use for the War of the Heart
Here are five ways to help your children focus on the true Advent story:
- Start early. You can’t start early enough or tell the true story often enough, since the false story is everywhere to be heard. Don’t wait until Christmas Day to point your family to God’s Word.
- Tell the bad news. Protect your family from fake news by telling them of the bad news: their sin and separation from God. Good news isn’t good unless it’s prefaced with bad news, and redemption becomes beautiful when we understand the depth of our need.
- Warn them about the false story. Enjoy traditions and fun, but take opportunities to point out how and why the false story your children will hear again and again isn’t true.
- Present Jesus as the gift of gifts. Express love by giving gifts, but remind your children that creation can’t satisfy, and that our only hope is found in one Gift—the person, presence, work, and grace of Jesus.
- Embed the Advent story everywhere. The Advent season gives you a wonderful opportunity to help your children understand themselves and everything in their lives from the vantage point of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Advent story tells them who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about. This story is the only reliable way they will ever make sense out of the story of their individual lives.
Nothing is more important than helping your children understand that the grace of Jesus shines brighter than any gift the world has to offer. It’s a light that will never go out and will never be put away.
Editors’ note: You can find advent devotionals from Paul Tripp that proclaim the true story in Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Crossway, 2017). This article is published in partnership with Crossway.