The Real Reason for the Season
About the Guest
While completing your holiday "to do" list don't forget to remember the real reason for the season--celebrating Christ's birth. Two moms, Janel Breitenstein and Barbara Rainey, share how FamilyLife's new resource, What God Wants for Christmas, is making a meaningful difference in the Breitenstein family and beyond.
Janel BreitensteinJanel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write On Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), is a "you-can-totally-do-this" guide to t...more
While completing your holiday “to do” list don’t forget to remember the real reason for the season–celebrating Christ’s birth.
The Real Reason for the Season
Bob: If you’re a young mom, life is already busy; right? Then, you throw Christmas into the mix; and it’s just—well, here’s young mom, Janel Breitenstein.
Janel: I’ve got all that. I’ve got at least nine loads of laundry I’m doing a week. I’ve got—whoever decided to leak on the floor from their sippy-cup, or the Play-Doh® crumbs, or whatever. You’ve got all the normal stuff.
Then, you now have the expectations that you need to make a meaningful holiday that seems magical, like your holidays were when you were a young kid. The expectations just continue to go up and up. It can get to be this tense, stressful time, rather than this special, meaningful time with family.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Christmas is just a few weeks away. We’re going to help you think through today how you can make this Christmas a little more meaningful for your whole family. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. Alright, I’m going to start right off with maybe the most controversial question of them all, “Fake tree or real tree at your house?” (Laughter)
Dennis: Real tree.
Bob: Real tree?
Dennis: Real tree.
Bob: Every since the first Christmas?
Dennis: No, let me finish this sentence. It was real tree for a number of years. Now, it’s this tinsel, red thing. (Laughter)
Barbara: You made it sound awful.
Dennis: That Barbara pulls out of the storage deal that—
Bob: This tinsel, red thing? (Laughter)
Dennis: Let me introduce our guests on today’s broadcast. Of course, we have my wonderful wife, Barbara—mom of six, grandmother of 18—
Barbara: And the one who brings the red, ugly, tinsel thing in. (Laughter) I didn’t know how you felt about it.
Bob: I have a few questions about that; but we have another guest you should introduce before I get to that.
Dennis: I want to introduce Janel Breitenstein who joins us on FamilyLife Today. Janel, welcome to the broadcast.
Janel: Thank you, Dennis.
Dennis: Janel does a little work here at FamilyLife, and she collaborated with Barbara on a resource we’re going to be talking about today. Janel is—she has a full-time day job.
Janel: Yes, I do.
Dennis: She has four children—ages seven, five, four, and two. Did I get that right?
Janel: Yes, exactly.
Dennis: That’s good because I found out from your husband. (Laughter)
Janel: He remembered, which is actually to his credit.
Dennis: That is. That is good, but Janel joins us on FamilyLife Today. We’re glad you’re here.
Janel: Thank you.
Bob: At your house, is it a real tree or is it a red tinsel, ugly thing? (Laughter)
Janel: To tell you the truth, the kids influenced the fake tree decision because the reality is I don’t have enough time to vacuum. So, the answer, “It’s a fake tree.”
Bob: It’s a fake tree. See, at our house, it was big deal for years—it was going to be a real tree. That’s what I grew up with. Well, then one of our kids is allergic to the real tree. I didn’t care. He was just stuffy every year at Christmas. (Laughter) We were going to have a real tree— and if he got stuffy—
Janel: Claritin® and a real tree.
Bob: —Yes, he could deal with that. In recent years, I’ve capitulated. I’ve gotten worn out, and we now have a lovely—
Dennis: Red tinsel?
Bob: Not red tinsel. Where did this red tinsel?
Dennis: I don’t know; I think Barbara picked it up on the side of the road—
Barbara: No, I can tell you.
Dennis: —somebody had thrown it away. (Laughter)
Bob: You didn’t realize how strongly he felt about this.
Barbara: I didn’t. I’m going to have to get something new this year!
Dennis: Actually, we need to put a picture of this on our website. It really is lovely by the time Barbara hangs 5,000 ornaments on it. (Laughter)
Janel: I guess there will be no sleeping under the tree.
Barbara: No, there’s a real story behind it, but we probably don’t have time.
Bob: No, I want to hear the real story.
Barbara: You want to hear the real story?
Bob: Yes, I do.
Barbara: Well, we remodeled our living room a few years ago, and the remodeling went on over the Christmas holiday. There was no room for a Christmas tree, but I didn’t want to have nothing. So, I found this cute, small—it’s about three-, four-feet tall—little red tinsel tree, and it fit on a table top. It allowed us to have the spirit of something Christmasy. I liked it.
Janel: You love red. You love red, too.
Barbara: I love red. So, we’ve done it for the last three or four years.
Bob: You’ve had a least one Christmas, since the kids have left the nest, when you have maybe only had one child home at Christmas—
Barbara: Yes. Sad days; right?
Bob: —or Christmas morning didn’t happen at your house the way it used to?
Bob: Do you still put up a tree, and decorate the house, and do all that even if that climatic morning is not going to happen?
Dennis: No, no—
Dennis: —it’s the red tinsel thing. (Laughter) We don’t have the big tree anymore.
Bob: It’s gone?
Dennis: It’s gone.
Bob: It’s all over?
Dennis: It’s gone.
Barbara: I don’t like vacuuming either, like Janel. I’m done with the real trees. We did the real trees until the last one left home. Then, we remodeled the living room, and we’ve had the red tinsel tree for four years. I’m just real happy with my little, tiny tree. (Laughter) I don’t have to vacuum it. It doesn’t shed.
Janel: It obviously has a big presence. (Laughter)
Bob: Janel, let me ask you about Christmas at your house. How long have you and John been married?
Janel: Eleven years.
Bob: When you first got married, did you come in with all kinds of, “Here’s how I want to do Christmas in our new family”, and lots of decorations, and, “I want it to be a big deal?” Was that a part of your thinking?
Janel: Yes, especially from my husband’s side. Christmas—his mom has an annual Christmas party every year—has Christmas music playing pretty much all year. So, that was a really big deal for him.
My family—we have a lot of real homey traditions. We had kind of the paper cut-out, Sunday school decorations-type tree with all the crayons dipped in glitter, bad pictures of us framed in popsicle sticks, and things like that. So, it was a big deal.
Actually, that was one of our first dates. I think it was actually the day after John’s birthday in November, when we first got married, and we were out the door to go get Christmas decorations. It was a big deal.
Dennis: Did I hear you say that John’s mom played Christmas music all year?
Janel: I think so. Actually, my dad made a rule in our house that we could only play it after Thanksgiving because I think our family would have, too. (Laughter)
Bob: Well, then, when you had kids—that kind of ups the ante in a family. Once kids are in, now, you start to be a little more intentional about Christmas; don’t you?
Janel: Yes, because you have got the discipleship element, at least for a family like ours. Any family who’s seen and follows Deuteronomy 6, the high calling that is set there for parents, as well as Psalm 78, passing our faith onto our kids—it so important.
We see the history of God—establishing for the Israelites in the Old Testament—feasts and how often they occur in a year because we’re forgetful people. We need those milestones and those great celebrations that add to our senses—through our sensory experiences—the Scripture—what has happened, and what God has done.
Dennis: Janel, you mentioned the word disciple. You talked about discipling your kids? Was that something you got from your parents growing up?
Janel: Most definitely.
Dennis: I mean, I know your parents.
Dennis: They work here at FamilyLife.
Dennis: Have for over 20 years.
Dennis: You really grew up in a home where it wasn’t just traditions that were passed down. Your parents were really attempting to teach you about Who God is and how we relate to Him as His people.
Janel: Very much so. It was neat because I think it actually became something that we adapted as kids. It’s kind of a—really, a family story that’s slightly embarrassing; but I’ll let you guys in on it since I’m here on the radio and everyone’s listening.
Dennis: Well, we’ve already shared about our red tinsel thing.
Janel: Yes. Yes.
Dennis: Can’t be much worse than that.
Janel: Well, you know I’m a first-born. I was slightly—no, not slightly—I was nerdy. I was very gregarious and creative. So, every year we would put on the Christmas play for my parents—just the kids and I—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Janel: You know my sisters and I—I have three sisters. There is one sister, who to this day, insists that every year I made her the donkey. I promise, she was not the donkey every year. She was Joseph at least one year. (Laughter)
So, we would read the story from Luke 2 or different Gospels, and things like that, sing songs, and things like that—put on a full-scale production with music for my parents. So, yes, this was something that they started doing, and we quickly adapted—even when we were—I’m not going to tell you how old I was because I might get embarrassed.
Barbara: I want to know if you charged your parents. (Laughter)
Dennis: Our kids—
Barbara: Our kids—
Dennis: Our kids charged us.
Barbara: —when they did the Christmas play, they charged us 25 cents each to watch.
Janel: You know, I really—that makes me sad that I did not—I was not that entrepreneurial because I really should have capitalized on that.
Barbara: You should have. That’s right, with all that work you put in.
Bob: Barbara, anybody who knows Janel knows that she’s still kind of a walking VBS waiting to happen; right?
Bob: I mean—
Dennis: Yes; really.
Bob: She is.
Dennis: I hadn’t thought about that, Bob, but that’s true.
Bob: Janel is one of those, “Put her in a room, just add water, and VBS will materialize.”
Dennis: Some of our listeners don’t know what VBS is.
Bob: Vacation Bible School. You love being creative with kids and using creativity to disciple kids. I know the very first What God Wants for Christmas® resource that FamilyLife came up with years ago—this was before you had kids that we came up with this resource; right?
Bob: When we got a team together this year to reinvent this resource, you were a big contributor to that team. You had a good time doing it; didn’t you?
Janel: It was really—it was fun. We already had a great resource. So, we were at that interesting spot of really trying to bring it to the next level and make it a home run; but at the same time, not take away the same elements that everyone loved and that had impacted children already. We were getting so much feedback about children coming to Christ through this resource and really interacting with the story.
Speaking of acting out the Bible story—I know that Barbara said that her kids used to act out Bible stories. It was one of the greatest ways to get them to interact with a Bible story. That’s really one of the real benefits of What God Wants for Christmas is because Christmas gets into their hands with this resource. They get to touch it, they get to feel it, they get those sensory experiences.
I read a quote recently that said, “What we learn in pleasure, we never forget.” This is—
Dennis: Say that again.
Janel: “What we learn in pleasure, we never forget.”
Dennis: That really is true. I have fond memories around certain traditions, growing up in our family; and it really does bring a smile to my face. That’s what we’re trying to do with our kids—help them enjoy from a tactile experience—touching the figurines, seeing the Nativity scene, opening these little boxes. Each one tells a portion of the Christmas story. It’s all a part of What God Wants for Christmas.
Bob: In fact, how would you use this? Or how have you used this with your children? Your oldest is just now seven years old.
Bob: Is he even able to engage with—with What God Wants for Christmas, or does he just kind of look at and watch what the big kids do?
Janel: Well, obviously, you’ve got different varying levels of discipleship happening. I think for the two-year-old, he obviously wants to touch, touch, touch. They’re such tactile learners at this phase. You can watch by the way two-year-olds eat their food; you can tell they are tactile learners—the fact that they love sandboxes and they love water—you can take a product like this (even though, you’ll see on the box, “It’s not intended for children under three”).
Yes. I think from two-year-old, all the way up to seven-year-olds, who can understand so much more of the Christmas story, and they’re starting to just barely to get on the abstract level of thinking—and think, “Wow! This is different from the myth of Santa Claus. This is different from the myths I experience of Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that I’ll see on the Christmas specials on TV.
“This is something that really happened. This was a real person. Mary was engaged—she was giggling with her friends. This shepherd boy could have been a child, not much older than I was.” So, I can step into where they are at. They’re able to assume roles, just like we can see them doing role playing, doing a play in your living room. They can experience that through this resource.
Bob: All through the book, and in the poem, you start pointing a child to that last box—
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: —box number seven. One of the great things about What God Wants for Christmas is that it doesn’t just tell the Christmas story, but it applies the Christmas story. Box number seven is where what happened in Bethlehem makes sense to you today and enters into your life. I don’t want to give away the secret, although some of our listeners may have an idea what’s in box number seven.
Many of our listeners have used What God Wants for Christmas in years past; so, they know what we do. The point of box number seven is so that a child can see this is not just a story that happened in history. This is a story that has implications for your life, and what God wants for Christmas is what we should be focused on every year at Christmastime.
Barbara: Exactly. So much of our thinking during the Christmas holiday is about gifts anyway—what we’re going to give to certain people. Kids think about what they maybe are going to get. That’s what makes this so unique and wonderful is it helps take that thinking that we’re already all wrapped up in anyway—of gift giving. It applies it to God.
We look and say, “Well, what does God want?” He was the One who gave the first Christmas gift on that first Christmas day. What is it that God wants back from us? That’s what this story is all about.
Bob: Well, it just so happens that you have your [Janel’s] oldest child with you today as you’ve come in here to be on FamilyLife Today. His name is Baden, is that right? Is that your name?
Bob: Baden, you’ve seen this before—What God Wants for Christmas; right?
Baden: Yes, I have.
Bob: Tell me about what’s your favorite part of this interactive Nativity set is? What do you like to do with it?
Baden: Well, we like to just put it around and lay all of the things and set them out like we want to. It’s kind of like, “I want to put this here. I want this put this there.” So, it’s kind of like that.
Bob: You can decide what goes where; right? If you want to put the angel on top of the manger, you can do that. Can’t you?
Baden: Yes, you can.
Bob: That’s pretty cool. Don’t put the baby Jesus on top of the manger. You can’t do that! (Laughter)
Barbara: Aren’t they silly?
Bob: Dennis is not a good person to play this with because he—
Janel: You need to read him the book.
Bob: Yes, you probably do. (Laughter)
Dennis: He’s getting tickled. Tell us, “What is the story of Christmas? Can you tell it?”
Baden: Yes. Well, it’s like the angel, Gabriel, tells Mary that she is going to have a baby. Then, he goes to Joseph. They both meet each other, and they head for Nazareth.
Dennis: Yes, that’s good.
Baden: Then, they arrive. Then, they ask the guy who owns the place; and, “I have no more room for you.” It’s like, “Actually, I do have some room for you in a stable.” So, they go to the stable; and, you know like, she has the baby; and, you know, the shepherds come along; then, the wise men. Then, they escape from Herod to Egypt. Then when Herod dies, they just like come right back.
Bob: I think you could keep going—
Dennis: Are you 12 years old? (Laughter)
Dennis: I think you’re seven!
Bob: I think Baden could keep going and take us all the way to the crucifixion and resurrection.
Barbara: I think he could, too.
Bob: You did a great job of telling the story.
Janel: Baden, do you—this is your first time actually seeing these figures. They look a lot different than the last ones you’ve seen; don’t they?
Janel: What do you think of the new ones?
Baden: They look so really good. I can hardly remember what the old ones look like.
Bob: Gabriel’s wings, you can pull on them.
Dennis: Bob, you’re going to rip them off. (Laughter)
Bob: Probably, yes.
Janel: We need for Gabriel to lose his wings—that’s the wrong story. That’s It’s a Wonderful Life. (Laughter)
Dennis: Baden, this reminds me of another time when we had a guest here on FamilyLife Today. Bob, I believe it was a friend of ours by the name of Libby, who brought her grandson. He had gone through Resurrection Eggs® and hadn’t been through them in almost a year, and we pulled them out. He remembered everyone of what the 12 eggs represented.
Bob: He was four years old.
Dennis: Baden, you’ve done the same thing here. You’ve totally shared the story of Christmas, just by looking at the figurines. You’ve shared it with a bunch of your friends across the country. I want to thank you for your maiden voyage here on FamilyLife Today. I think I have a day job. Would you like to be my co-host?
Bob: Well, wait, wait, wait. (Laughter) Hang on.
Janel: You aren’t going to take Mr. Bob’s job; are you?
Dennis: He just nodded his head. He’s in; you’re out, Bob! (Laughter)
Bob: Baden, I’ve got an assignment for you. Since you’re the oldest one in your family—
Bob: —I think this year with What God Wants for Christmas, you should be the one to tell your brothers and sisters the story. When you open the boxes, you need to teach them and explain to them what the angel was all about, and about Mary and Joseph—just like you did for us. Can you do that?
Baden: Yes. I think you can.
Bob: Yes. Well—
Dennis: I think he can, too.
Bob: —we’ll look forward to hearing that. Janel, you’ve read parts of the poem to your kids; but you’ve been waiting until this finished resource was ready; right?
Janel: Yes. I was waiting for the illustrations, actually, because illustrations, as many good readers know, can make or break a children’s story. These are quite spectacular. They really make the poem come alive. I’ve kind of been waiting to just let it explode in their hands a little bit with these really neat colors—Baden can see it across the table here. It’s—
Dennis: What do you think, Baden?
Janel: —pretty amazing; huh?
Dennis: Pretty cool; huh?
Baden: Yes. I really like it.
Dennis: Yes. It’s good.
Bob: Well, we’re going to let you go home to your phony tree (Laughter) and get ready to celebrate the Christmas season with a phony, plastic tree.
Dennis: Bob has found some new ways to insult another guest.
Bob: Or a red tinsel tree, if you’d like.
Janel: And I’ll let you go home to your tree and your Claritin. (Laughter)
Dennis: And all the allergies.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: Thanks for being with us.
Bob: You know, we really don’t think there is a biblically-approved choice here when it comes to trees, allergies, or how you want to handle that; but we do think the Bible calls on us to, at all times, keep our attention where it ought to be and our focus where it ought to be—which is on God, and His glory, and on Christ and the incarnation, and the Gospel. That’s what we’ve tried to do with this resource, What God Wants for Christmas.
It is an interactive Nativity scene for families, for kids of all ages. Along with it, there’s a brand-new book with a poem in it from Barbara Rainey. The Nativity scene has been—well, it’s gotten a little bit of a face lift. It really is a great-looking family Nativity scene. You can see what it looks like when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and order a set from us, if you would like.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You may want to order more than one set. You may have family, friends, neighbors, people at work—you may want to get multiple sets and use this as a gift that you give, kind of a pre-Christmas gift that presents the Gospel to your friends and neighbors, as well. This is the kind of thing—a Nativity set— you can give that to a neighbor, without anybody taking offense at it, because, after all, this is what Christmas is all about; right?
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about What God Wants for Christmas; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and, then, the word, “TODAY”. Ask about the Nativity set, What God Wants for Christmas, when you get in touch with us.
For those of you who, this month, can help us with a donation to support FamilyLife Today, we’d like to send you as a thank-you gift a book that Barbara wrote a few years ago. It’s a gift book called When Christmas Came, where Barbara took John 3:16—that very familiar Bible verse—and examined it in light of the incarnation—really, taking it line-by-line and giving families a tool that you can use during the Christmas season to continue to draw your attention to Christ.
The book, When Christmas Came, is a thank-you gift we’d love to send you this week when you support FamilyLife Today with a donation, which you can do online at FamilyLifeToday.com. In fact, all you have to do is go to the website, FamilyLifeToday.com, click the button that says, “I Care”. That will take you to the online donation form. When you fill that out and summit it, we’ll know to send you a copy of Barbara’s book; or make a donation over the phone.
Call 1-800-FL-TODAY. When you make your donation, be sure to ask if we’ll send you Barbara’s book. We’re happy to do that. We want to say, “Thanks,” in advance for your support. We appreciate your financial partnership with us in this ministry, especially here as the end of the year is approaching. We would love to hear from you. Again, call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY; or donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Be sure to be back with us tomorrow as we continue to talk about how we can make the upcoming holiday a more holy day. I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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