I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and I promise I’m not one of those people who starts decorating for Christmas the day after Halloween. But the first Sunday in advent falls on November 30 this year, so I don’t want us to get broadsided by the insane pace, the mega-debt, and the uber-insanity. So that means planning ahead a bit. Here are my five suggestions:
Decide to make Christ your focus. Pray for wisdom and ask God to help you honor him during this holy season. Set aside ten minutes this week to decide what reading plan you want to use for spiritual reflection. Do you need to order a Bible study or devotional book? Determine what Bible book you will read? Three years ago, Dallas Theological Seminary’s Christmas devotionals focused on names of Christ. And you can still read them for free online. If you love going to your city’s production of Handel’s Messiah or the Christmas production for a church you don’t normally attend, make a note on your calendar to get tickets soon. Hopefully this means you’ll actually get the seats you want rather than the leftovers.
Plan your giving. You will get bombarded with requests for money. Think ahead about the best use of your dollars, write the checks, and tear up all the solicitations for other organizations guilt-free. Empty the coins out of the bottom of your purse so you’ll have them handy when you pass the bell ringers standing by kettles. When post-Thanksgiving food goes on sale, know what canned goods you will pick up for the local food pantry or homeless ministry. Is volunteering part of your Advent season? Will you be offering help with someone’s childcare? Work out the scheduling before the season hits.
Avoid last-minute gift panics. If you haven’t done so already, pencil in a date on the calendar for when you will make gift lists and shop. And think about how you might bring a double-blessing through your giving. To whom can you give fair-trade jewelry or a purse? Would someone on your list appreciate a goat purchased in his or her name through one of the aid organizations that offer such options? Keep an extra giftcard onhand for that person you forgot.
Think about your correspondence. If you sponsor a child, you can’t wait till December 20 to mail a note if you want it to arrive anywhere near Christmas. Pick up a bookmark or some stickers and get it in the mail. And let's remember our veterans (Happy Veteran's Day!). Send a card to a member of the miliary who is serving far from home this Christmas. Mail to Holiday Mail for Heroes, P. O. Box 5456, Capital Heights, MD 20791-5456. If you write a Christmas letter, pencil in a date when you will do this and allow yourself plenty of time to get it printed and mailed. Limit it to one side of one page and print it on easy-to-read paper. (Dark green or dark red may look festive, but they make reading difficult.) If you plan to send cards, order them now and set the date for addressing and mailing. Hop online or drop by the post office and order the festive stamps you’ll need before the lines get long.
Prepare the car. Carry some Granola bars and a bottle of water for the homeless. Choose your favorite Christmas CDs along with the Bible on CD, and make the most of drive time. Consider ordering an Audible production of classic Christmas stories, from Dickens to O’Henry. When you’re stuck in the mall parking lot five weeks from now, the songs or stories will take the edge off your aggravation.
Sometimes thirty minutes of planning can prevent thirty hours of chaos. So schedule a date with your calendar—perhaps while having a pedicure. Take the insanity out of the season so you can be a blessing rather than a harried mess. Christ the Savior is born! Let us celebrate his birth in a way that brings him joy.