“Our joy springs from the truth that our Savior was born. We shouldn’t let any outside circumstance or event steal that joy from us.” In this article, Pastor Paolo Punzalan shares how we can make this year’s Christmas celebration more meaningful.
What is one of your family’s favorite Christmas traditions? How has this tradition been affected by our current situation?
We have several Christmas traditions. Putting up the Christmas tree is one of the most important for us as a family not just because it signals the start of the celebration, but because it’s a memorable family event every year. It’s a walk down memory lane. The first thing we put on the tree is the first ornament Jen and I had as a married couple. The kids grew up knowing the story behind that ornament. Then each one that would follow has its own story. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness throughout the years. Another important tradition is reading the Advent story. When the children were young, we used a storybook, but now we use the passage from Luke. Then we take turns sharing our insights. This year, one of the insights shared was God’s very precise timing. If God can make sure that light from a star would travel years in advance so that people during Christ’s birth would see it at that exact moment, we can be sure that God can bring His perfect timing for everything in our lives. It’s so amazing to hear how God speaks to them through the story; it’s different every year. It’s also our tradition to buy toys and goodies and make loot bags. We drive around the city to give them to street children. It’s our way of teaching our children that Christmas is about giving, not just receiving.
How are you making this year’s Christmas celebration exciting and meaningful for your children? How would you want them to remember Christmas 2020?
We aren’t really doing anything different this year. We may not have as many guests at home and have shifted our gatherings to online platforms, but it’s still the same. This year, we did not do the usual loot bags, but we gave to the relief operations for those affected by the recent typhoons. The method may have changed, but what we are doing and why we are doing them remains the same. We also did not do the usual advent where we would invite several people in our home, but we had it online. In fact, we just had one for our village. Circumstances around us may change which may result in changes in the manner we celebrate Christmas, but the spirit behind this celebration will never change.
In one of my Christmas gatherings this year, I asked everyone, “Given the choice, would you have rather had a different 2020?” Personally, my answer to my own question is yes and no. Yes, because we couldn’t have physical gatherings, people lost jobs, and went through so many challenges. This has been a faith-stretching year for everyone. But at the same time, this year brought unprecedented growth. The growth in terms of relationships in families, dependence on God, and faith to believe that even if you no longer know what to do, you are certain that God is right there with you and He will act on your behalf. In spite of everything that we lost this year, there was also a lot we gained. I would not want to lose all that.
With everything that has happened this year, how can we, as Christians, celebrate this season and at the same time make it meaningful to others who may be going through a difficult time?
It’s a fact that 2020 took a lot from us. But what it has given us is clarity. Crisis creates clarity, and what this year made clear to us are the most basic yet the most important things. Yes, Christmas this year has been stripped down to the smallest of gatherings, but it should not take away our joy. This year clarified the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on events, on things around us. On the other hand, joy runs deeper. Our joy springs from the truth that our Savior was born. We shouldn’t let any outside circumstance or event steal that joy from us. At the same time, we also acknowledge that all of us went through so many challenges and most of us are having a difficult time. I think celebrating this season with a joy that comes from a grateful heart—reflecting on all the little things we’ve taken for granted in the past years—would make this Christmas season more meaningful to us and to those around us.
Pastor Paolo serves as the senior pastor in Victory Fort and has been married to Jenn for 25 years. Together with their four children and growing family, they continue to serve not just in the church, but also in their community.
Beyond the Series is a set of interviews on topics related to our sermon series.