Yeah, I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and I promise I’m not one of those people who starts playing Christmas music the day after Halloween. But the first Sunday in advent falls on December 3 this year, so I don’t want us to get broadsided by the insane pace, the mega-debt, and the uber-insanity. That means planning ahead a bit. Here are my seven 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 will use for spiritual reflection. Do you need to order a Bible study or devotional book? Determine what Bible book you will read? Dallas Theological Seminary’s Christmas devotionals this year focus on “Son of God, Son of Man,” and you can have them delivered daily to your inbox. Or get Fathom Mag’s free family-friendly Advent guide. 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 now. Think about the message you want to send on your Christmas cards.
Minimize surprises. Pull out your calendar and pencil in all the church concerts, family dinners, school programs, and parties, plus events requiring you to take food. Go ahead and say no to some. And plan around those you really want to do.
Plan your charitable giving. You will get bombarded with requests for money. Think ahead about the best use of your dollars. Then 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 want to pick up for the local food pantry. Is volunteering part of your Advent season? Will you be offering help with someone’s childcare? Work out the scheduling before the craziness of the season hits.
Avoid last-minute gift panics. If you haven’t done so already, pencil in a date 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? What about a book that will bless them? Buy an extra gift card to keep on hand for that person you forgot.
Think about your correspondence. If you sponsor a child, you can’t wait till December 21 to mail a note if you want it to arrive anywhere near Christmas. Pick up bookmarks or some stickers and drop them the mail soon. And let's remember our veterans. Send a card to a member of the military who is serving far from home this Christmas. By December 5 you can mail it to Operation Soldiers’ Christmas Cards, c/o Evelyn Terrell Amos, CMR473 Box 2078, APO, AE 09606. If you write a Christmas letter, pencil in a date soon when you will do this and allow yourself plenty of time to get it printed and mailed. Limit your letter 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—along with stamps (avoid the line!)—and set a date for addressing and mailing.
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.
Prep food. Make or order cookie dough and freeze it now. Same with the special family cheese ball. When the office list circulates for who will bring what goodies, sign up for something you’ve frozen.
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.