Monday, December 6, 2010

Nontraditional Advent: All I Want for Christmas . . .

I don't make Christmas Wish lists because it's a great way to be disappointed.  I have a hard time asking for what I want.  Oh, there are a lot of things I want, but I don't really expect people to give them to me.  I hope they will, but I don't actually ask for them.  

And so Pastor Mike's question yesterday is kind of difficult for me.  In the sermon yesterday, "What are you longing for this Christmas?" 

It reminded me of when I was a little girl, and my sister and I spent hours sitting on the harvest gold couch in the living room, poring over the Sears Christmas catalog, playing a game we called "Pick."  In this game, we went through the catalog, looking at three-story Barbie doll houses, and rock tumblers and child-size electric guitars, and as we turned the pages, we took turns picking one thing from each page.  If I picked something, my sister couldn't pick it too.  

This was a fairly competitive game of "mine and not yours."  Except we knew that we were only picking the "idea" of the thing and not the thing itself.  We would never ask for all these things.  Our parents didn't talk much about money, but somehow we knew that it wouldn't actually do much good to ask for any of these things.

Honestly, I don't remember asking for much.  We had everything we needed--clothes, food, housing.  Our parents sacrificed to give us other things too--musical instruments and lessons.  At one point, my mom and dad had five of the six children in piano lessons.  Philip wasn't old enough.  And four of us were taking Irish step dancing lessons.

So we definitely weren't deprived.  Still, we learned not to expect much in the way of "stuff," and we learned not to ask for "things."

One time I asked very specifically for a Skipper doll with bendable legs.  In retrospect, my dad may not have understood how important it was that Skipper could bend her legs.  After all, it's not like she's actually going to get up and walk away.  I could tell from the wrapped box that I was going to get this prized gift, and so I looked forward to Christmas Eve.  This was going to be the best Christmas ever.

Except that when I tore off the paper, I had the old-style Skipper.  I'm sort of embarrassed now by the way I acted.  I think I got quiet and pouted.  I think I got grumpy.  Of course, I was only ten.

We left the next day to visit my grandparents in Kansas, and I know my dad visited multiple Sears stores in the Kansas/Missouri region looking for the "right" Skipper.  I didn't ever thank him, and I don't actually remember if we found the perfect Skipper.  The magical Christmas moment when you open the present under the tree, and it's exactly what you want?  That was gone.  Never to be retrieved.

And so I learned not to ask for much.  And to expect even less.  Which isn't that terrible.  After all, I had everything I needed.  However, I extended this pattern to my relationship with God, which is not such a great thing.  James tells us, "You do not have because you do not ask God" (James 4:2).  And Matthew records the words of Jesus, who tells his disciples, "Ask and you shall receive . . ." (Matthew 7:7).  Paul admonishes us not to worry, but to "present our requests to God" with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:4-7).

I don't think the message here is to ask for Porsches, giant bank accounts, or Barbie mansions.  And so I worry sometimes that I might ask for things inappropriately.  Honestly, I had trouble answering my kids when they asked me what I wanted for Christmas.

And that brings us back to Pastor Mike's question, "What are you longing for this Christmas?"

Here's my Christmas list, the things that are most important to me:

  • I long for my children to experience the joy of God's love.  
  • I long for my children to experience God's presence.  
  • I long for my husband to be increasingly filled with God's Spirit and to walk in all that God shows him.
And for me?  My requests are taken from Psalm 119:169-176.
  • Understanding, according to the Word of God, so that I see circumstances and people through God's perspective instead of my own.
  • God's help in all my endeavors.
  • A heart of worship.  All the time.  I want to see God's greatness.  All the time.
Sometimes, when my heart feels heavy, I pray this prayer, "I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law gives me delight.  Let me live that I may praise you, and may your Word sustain me."

Here's what this means to me:
I long for your presence in this situation.  I long for a heart of worship in spite of the circumstances.  I long to hear your voice right now, in my hurt, in my disappointment, in my anxiety, in my struggles, and I long to rejoice in you.  

That's what I want for Christmas.  And these are gifts only God can give me.  

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