4 Steps for Loving Your Neighbors During the Holidays
For the last month or so, I’ve been running a mile a minute. I sometimes can’t catch my breath—literally. So, I asked a friend to pray that I’d have some time to rest and recharge over the holiday season. She gave me a kind look and giggled. “I will, but I’m not sure how much rest the holidays will bring.”
She was right. The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year. What was I thinking? I wondered if I could do prayer request take-backs.
And yet, I know I can’t sustain the pace of this past season. I’m ready for a reset. I need more than just a festive December bucket list and fun holiday parties. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not cutting everything out, and I don’t want to. But I know the culture’s version of December-ing will leave me wanting.
Advent is the disruption I need—and that you need. It’s God’s grand entrance into our Decembers. A new neighbor just moved in—it’s Jesus. He enters our scene by knocking at our doors with a welcome basket of his own—welcome gifts for us. Gifts of hope and peace and joy.
We’re no longer waiting for salvation from our striving. Salvation has come. He's here!
In a rest-starved culture, the holidays offer us a unique opportunity to practice Advent—to spotlight God’s arrival into our lives—particularly at home with our neighbors.
And as our neighbors experience Jesus interrupting our holiday, surface-level relationships can make way for meaningful opportunities and deeper connections in the future.
How to Have an Advent Mindset in our Neighborhoods
Here are four steps you can take to resist the holiday scurry, embrace the gift of Advent’s good interruptions, and love your neighbors in the process.
1. Slow Down.
Rather than over-scheduling throughout the holidays, what if you acknowledged your limits and built in some time to slow your heart? Jesus brings good news to a never-stopping, busy-crazed culture. He has come bearing the gift of rest. Rest from your work, rest from the hustle and bustle, rest from your anger and stress, rest from your fear of serving others.
Consider going for a walk in your neighborhood and pray for whatever burdens your neighbors might be carrying. Make something creative (and give one to a neighbor). Invite a neighbor over to bake something.
As my husband likes to say in his adapted version of Matthew 5, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Bake Christmas cookies and bring them to your neighbor.’ But I say, ‘Bake Christmas cookies with your neighbor.’”
Walking, creating, and baking are all ways to slow down.
2. Embrace Childlike Wonder.
Remember when you were little, and you were easily amazed by things like a squirrel or a leaf pile? The world was big and new, and joy was around every corner. Now it takes the ocean or the Grand Canyon to wow us. We lose our sense of wonder when we stop being curious, when we experience the same thing a thousand times and, rather than marvel, we say, “meh.”
This season, instead of buying into the commercialized Christmas narrative where things peak on the 25th as we open gifts (followed by a hard crash), let’s celebrate the wonder of Jesus’s arrival to our neighborhoods in small, ordinary ways.
When you drive home, look around you. See your neighbors and neighborhood with fresh eyes. What are the familiar—but easy to miss—sights and sounds in your neighborhood? Let God stir your imagination as you pray for neighbors. Bring some delight to your neighbors by caroling, dropping off a surprise for someone a few doors down, or inviting a neighbor to the Magic Tree.
Our neighbors are undernourished when it comes to knowing the God of wonders—and so are we—but we can rediscover him right at home.
3. Be Present at Home.
We can only handle overstimulating and stressful schedules for so long before we press the escape button. When we come home for the day, our brains look to our phones, holiday vacays, eggnog, or Santa Clause movie marathons to disappear from the ordinary or the hard. And we fear engaging with anyone who might take more energy from us.
But Advent offers an alternative: Jesus has arrived. Right into your routines (however eventful or dull they might be).
And when the universe-maker moved in, he wasn’t looking over his shoulder to heaven. He was 100% in the moment. He was present in the good things and the hard things and let his Father restore him.
So, resist the escape button. When you see your neighbor, be intentional for those five minutes. Make eye contact and let your body posture show you’re present and listening. In a culture where no one listens, you can embody Jesus to your neighbors by showing them that God sees them, leaving the comforts of heaven to be with you and me.
4. Bring Others In.
Remember that for many of us, the holidays leave us wanting. Feelings of isolation, grief, disappointment, and unmet expectations over family dynamics are… hard. I can only eat my feelings for so long before realizing I’m now sad and my jeans don’t fit.
All our attempts to make family memories and Christmas nostalgia fit into the Jesus-shaped hole leave us feeling whiplashed in January. “Welp, that didn’t work. Time to double down and find a new and improved self, I guess.…”
The world is waiting to be shielded—even rescued—from these cycles. And Advent reminds us that we no longer have to wait for relief. Jesus has come.
Plan a soup night, cookie exchange, or progressive dinner. Or invite a couple of neighbors over to wrap Christmas presents, putting a movie on in the background. Think of something you already want or need to do and invite neighbors to join to make it more fun. Remember the student, single mom or dad, empty nester, or someone far from home. These gatherings remind us that we’re not alone.
Don’t overcomplicate it, just think simple and together.
In a commercialized, me-centered culture, neighboring over the holidays can feel counter-intuitive. But that’s the kingdom of God for you. We can experience the reality of Advent in our neighborhoods when we slow down, embrace childlike wonder, are present at home, and bring our neighbors in.
These postures give us hope that perhaps there’s some rest to be had after all. And instead of showing up to January feeling a little soul-starved, maybe we’ll be surprised by how Advent rekindled the wonder of God in our neighbors—and in us.