Monday, November 29, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I know what the lyrics to the song say, but Christmas is NOT my favorite holiday.  

It used to be.  I loved the decorations.  I set out three nativity scenes.  I fretted about finding the perfect tree.  I played Christmas music, Bing Crosby, the Nutcracker, and Amy Grant.  And I watched Christmas movies and TV specials.  I made sugar cookies, just like the ones my mom made, in nativity shapes.  I also made gingerbread cookies, even though no one ever ate them.  I bought beautiful Christmas cards, addressed and stamped them, and wrote individual notes inside them.  I sang in choirs and loved performing--or I directed children's musicals.  I shopped.  

And every year I got sick with a flu that lingered for weeks into the new year.  I also accumulated lots of stress and even more debt.  

In the end, I think I felt like Solomon, who throws up his hands and says, "Meaningless.  Meaningless.  Everything is meaningless."  


During this season when we celebrate the birth of the Holy One who redeems humankind, I often ended up so busy I didn't have time to read the Bible.  I would fight the Christmas Eve service crowds to find a seat a church and realize that it was the first time I had stopped in ages.  As I sat there, listening to familiar passages of Scripture from Isaiah, Matthew, and Luke, I wondered where the month went and asked myself, "How is it it that once again I forgot to enjoy the season?"

And I toyed (no pun intended) with the idea of opting out.  Generally not a great plan if you have young kids.  But I did quit sending cards.  I stopped looking for perfect gifts for my extended family.  I didn't make cookies.  And Duane and I stopped directing children's choirs.

After all, what do any of these things have to do with the holiness of Jesus' birth?  They're lovely American traditions, but they really have very little to do with Jesus.  And to be honest, these traditions can actually get in the way of remembering Jesus.  

And so I struggled with that too.  In the end, I came up with the idea of two Christmases.  The first is sacred. A way of commemorating the birth of Jesus, with its hope and promise.  The second is strictly fun--American traditions.  Santa Claus.  Stockings.  Christmas trees.  

My challenge every December is to balance the two Christmases.  
I want to remember the sacred promise of Jesus.
And I want to remember the fun of being a kid at Christmas.  

When I was a little, we attended liturgical churches that celebrated Advent, which means "coming" or "arrival."    I always considered it sort of a countdown to Christmas.  Think about it.  Advent calendars for little kids have chocolate or ornaments inside them.  

In fact, Advent served a much greater purpose.  We live in a literate culture, and we can't even imagine what it's like not to read or write.  But books are a relatively recent invention.  Long ago, church leaders used the passage of time and special celebrations to cultivate a memory of important biblical truths, to symbolize the spiritual journey of a community of believers.  And here is one important truth that we must remember.  Jesus, the long awaited Messiah came long ago as a baby, and he will come again as a conqueror.  

Jesus came to reconcile men and women to God, and he will come again to establish his kingdom on the earth.  

We forget about the implications of Jesus' arrival.  We forget that he is present in the world today.  And we forget that he will come again in power.  

This Christmas I want to remember. 

And so I'll be looking at and reflecting on Advent passages.  From Garden to City will be going through the book of Isaiah, and so I'll probably do that as well.  I know Advent started yesterday.  It's okay.  I'm following my own schedule of remembering.  

Low stress.
No cookies.
No cards.

This year I want to celebrate family and friends and Jesus.  I want to remember the beauty of Jesus' birth and look forward to his return. I want to sit down at the Christmas Eve service and reflect on a fabulous December and thank God for a blessed month.  

Merry Christmas.

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