Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. 1 Peter 1:8
I have a secret. And it’s about Christmas. And it might be something you don’t want to hear.
Christmas doesn’t depend on you.
If you didn’t do another thing between now and the 25th of December, Christmas would still be Christmas. Honestly.
Some times we feel a lot like Mary, going into labor in the middle of the street, don’t we? The days of December tick by so fast and we barely have time to catch our breath. Suddenly, just like that, Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day arrive. Ready or not, here it comes. And we feel so not ready. If only we had an extra couple of days. Or maybe a week.
The idea that what we do is what makes Christmas Christmas is a lie.
Because the truth of what makes Christmas what it is for us as Christians remains true regardless of how ready we feel or what we’ve done to prepare. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus, our God, Savior and King, came to earth as a baby; as a Christian this knowledge comes easy, right? But the part we often neglect to remember is that the entire reason He had to come in the first place was because we could not do what needed to be done.
Now I want you to read the Galatians passage again:
“When the time had fully come, God sent His Son…”
The Bible tells us that the time had fully come for Jesus to be born. But it sure wasn’t because Mary & Joseph were ready. It sure wasn’t because the most amazing inn had its best room available. And it surely wasn’t because the world was a safe place for Jesus to be. But still, Paul tells us that the time had fully come according to God’s plan.
This Advent season, I’m using the letters in the word manger to help remind me that it’s not about what I’ve accomplished in my preparations that makes or breaks the holiday:
The Christmas cards are fun. The decorations are beautiful to look at. The cookies are oh-so delicious. But what’s the why behind your actions? Is it helping to prepare your heart for His coming or is it distracting your focus? Is it enriching the season for your family or is it stressing you (and therefore, the others in your home) out and causing arguments and exhaustion? Are you enjoying your preparations or are do you look at them with a feeling of obligation or dread?
Not everyone is Martha Stewart or Joanna Gaines. One of my friends has incredible patience to sit down with her kids each year and have them help her hand make every Christmas card they send. Another is an incredible host and absolutely loves having people over. Another makes the most delicious cookies with unbelievably intricate frosting decorations. Yet another is extremely generous and has the financial means to purchase great gifts for everyone and anyone. I am none of the above. But I’m learning to accept that. God made you YOU, with your own set of talents and abilities. It’s only an exercise in frustration (and a whole lot of debt!) if you try to magically become someone that you’re not. It’s ok to buy — and not make — the cookies. It’s ok to get Papa Murphy’s pizza on Christmas Eve. It’s ok to say “no” to sending cards. And it’s ok to spend ten meaningful dollars on a gift for someone who you know will spend way more than that on you.
Consider the needs of you and your family this year. Has it been a rough one financially? Your family members don’t need grandiose gifts to know that you love them. Has it been an exhausting one with the addition of a baby? Maybe this year you don’t need to run around to all of the family events. Has work been more stressful than usual? You don’t need to make a half dozen different kinds of cookies simply because it’s what you always do. What about your spiritual needs? Do you need to connect with God and dig deeper into the Word before Christmas arrives? Let that be at the top of your to-do list.
Oh, those troubled relationships. Things only get harder at the holidays, don’t they? The questions of who will host, when will we eat, what will we eat, when will we go to church, whose Christmas program will Gramma & Grampa attend this year…it goes on and on. Not to mention the idle chit-chat at the get-togethers themselves. It can be exhausting. (For tips on how to handle these relationships, be sure to read Lisa’s blog post from earlier this week if you missed it, “4 Ways to Nurture Challenging Relationships this Christmas”.) But even the healthiest, friendliest relationships can strain under the weight of the season. Let grace be your guide in these situations. Ask yourself, “Is this a battle worth fighting?” Maybe it is. Or maybe, it’s best to just move on and let it go.
I remember my first Christmas after becoming a mother. I had offered to host Christmas Eve, thinking it would be easier than packing up half the house and trying to get my girls to nap somewhere else. I had this picture perfect first Christmas with my babies in my mind. I got them adorable outfits with matching tights, I found a dress that didn’t show my still-pregnant-looking belly and I decked out the table like something in a Pottery Barn catalog. And the day came and one of the girls had a blow out in her tights and needed to be changed before anyone even arrived. I spent what felt like half of the evening in my bedroom nursing and barely sat at the table which I had so carefully decorated to eat. I went to bed crying that night — hormones were probably partly to blame but if I’m being honest, I was full of disappointment. It didn’t even feel like Christmas because life got in the way. I was expecting a magical day full of lighthearted laughter, great conversation and babies who followed their schedule perfectly. The celebration of the Savior’s birth, which doesn’t change, was happening right before my eyes and I refused to join in because it wasn’t like I had planned. Evaluate your expectations: are they realistic? Are you focused on the things of this world which disappoint us time and time again?
I don’t care what you have to do, but find time to rest during this Advent and Christmas season. Schedule it if you have to. Say no to that one last commitment which is going to put you over the edge and steal more time from connecting with your heavenly Father. Literally set a timer for 5 minutes and sit in a chair, eyes closed, reflecting on what Christmas means to you as a child of God and soaking up just how much the Creator of the world loves you.
I’m praying for you this Advent, my friend. Praying that the devil’s lies about Christmas are replaced with truth: The truth about Christmas, the fact that the King of the world came as a tiny babe at just the right time to do what we were unable to do for ourselves.
No, Christmas doesn’t depend on us. And for that, my friend, we can be eternally grateful.
With Christmas just around the corner, we will likely be spending a lot of time with people, some we really like, and some who are a little more, shall we say, challenging to get along with.
How can we approach this busy season with intention in our relationships?
1. Can I Pray with You?
How often do we say “I’ll be praying for you” and then either forget altogether or say a little mumbled prayer and then continue on with whatever else we’re doing? What if we stopped and said our prayer right then and there with the person? Let's make praying people a common occurrence!
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
While growing up many of us said our bedtime prayers with our parents, but often that habit of praying out loud, whatever we’re thinking, tends to fade. As we get older, we get more self-conscious, and it might become weirder or more uncomfortable to pray out loud with people, other than a memorized Lord’s Prayer or table grace. Some churches are great at encouraging spontaneous prayer, but I think for a lot of us, it is a struggle.
If someone specifically asks you to keep them in your prayers, what if you fought through the awkward and asked, “Can I pray for you right now?” Depending on your relationship with the person, they may say no thanks or begrudgingly say OK, hoping it will be quick and painless, but I think the more we try, the more natural it becomes for everyone. Some people may be surprised at your bold offer, but really value it!
When we offer to pray for someone with our own words, or using the Word, we show them we honestly care and take this Christian responsibility to pray seriously. Our words don’t have to be eloquent, long, and easy flowing. Take the pressure off yourself, trusting that God will give you the words to say. Sometimes simple is all that’s needed. For the person struggling, hearing someone else’s words spoken over your situation is so powerful. She may have been praying for herself so fervently, but your words may be the extra fuel or the slightly different way of thinking and believing that she needs to hear in that moment.
If you are not face to face with the person needing prayer, go out on a limb and write your actual prayer in a public post if appropriate or a private message. Be careful not to approach it as showing off your prayer for your own ego. But if it is attached to your friend’s public Facebook call for prayer or a shared prayer chain, it can also be an encouragement to others who read your prayer. A text message with your prayer for that person is another great option if you’re too nervous to call and say a prayer out loud.
If someone has ever prayed directly for you and with you, you know how comforting and worthwhile this relationship building is. It grows Christian community and brings you both closer to God at the same time.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
2. Put It on the Calendar
This one is so simple in theory, but gets so neglected. If you want to get together with someone, you really need to pick a day and time right then and there, or it won’t happen. “We should get together sometime” so easily turns into the never-ending “one day…”
For most people December fills up quickly. Take some time with your calendar in front of you to prioritize who you need to see, who you want to see, and what you have time for. It’s OK if your girlfriend coffee date has to wait until January, but get it on the calendar now. Don’t let those good friendships fade just because you’re busy.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
3. Relationship Before Critique
This time of year, we may be seeing a variety of people who we are very close to and others not so much. Though we may have good intentions for how we want some conversations to go, we might need to take a step back and determine how our relationship with that person should influence what we say and how we say it.
If someone we’re talking with is not a Christian, we have no business expecting them to obey God’s laws. They see no need for following God’s rules if they don’t even believe he exists or is worthy of respect, and they think their conscience is good enough. Yes, we will all be judged equally whether we believe in God or not, but pointing out someone’s shortcomings or a lifestyle that is not God pleasing before that person sees a need for God can sometimes do more harm than good. We must want everyone to come to faith and love God more than we want them to change a sinful habit.
If someone does claim to be a Christian, Godly guidance may be appropriate, but consider your relationship first. Telling a relative you rarely see that they should change an un-Christian habit may not be the best way to represent Christ in that moment. We don’t want to come off as legalistic hypocrites who end up pushing them away from their Lord.
Jesus stood with the women who was about to be stoned for her adultery; then he told her to sin no more. How can you stand with and build a relationship with someone before guiding them back to the Way? How can we better see people as loved by God instead of an agenda to fix first? How can you walk alongside someone else who has a stronger relationship with that person?
Everyone needs to see their need for a Savior before they can repent and come to Jesus, so how can we best model love and forgiveness before judgement and critique?
4. Don’t Forget the Lonely
Our calendars fill up quickly with the things to do, places to go, and people to see, but don’t forget those who might not be first on your list. Because holidays are so relationship-based, it can be a hard time for those who feel lacking in that area. Singles, widows, people separated by distance for work or for serving our country, people who are new to town and missing friends, people in strained relationships, people who have lost someone dear to them no matter how long ago.
Think of what you can do to reach out to the lonely people in your life, and show them they are not forgotten or alone. A note, a special treat, or an actual meetup might just mean the world to someone who is not feeling the holiday cheer. Tell them you care and that their heavenly Father is always with them.
God created us for relationship With Him and with each other. Let’s intentionally work on showing it better.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2
A while back, I went to the zoo with a friend. Our kids spent most of the brisk morning running from habitat to habitat while we got some chatting time in. When we were leaving we ended up doing the inevitable mom departure situation. Tell the kids it’s time to leave…then stand around talking for an additional 15 minutes while the kids run around crazy. During that time, my littlest son who is two years old, in an act of what probably seemed to him a very brave and maybe even heroic moment, took a running start and tried to run/leap off the curb. I *think* he thought he was going to gracefully continue his super speed run after his running-man-in-the-air moment. Instead, he face-planted. It sounds a little sad, but really it was pretty cute. We really thought that he thought this was a great idea.
As I was checking for skinned knees and kissing his little scraped hands, I couldn’t help but draw the parallel between this little face-plant and my own life.
Have you ever tried to attempt life by yourself, only to fall flat on your face? I’m totally guilty.
I’m guessing you know the story of Jonah. God had great plans for Jonah to go to Nineveh to help spread God’s message to those people. What did Jonah do? The exact opposite of what God told him. His plan led him to be thrown into the sea during a raging storm only to be swallowed by a big fish. How’s that for a face-plant? (Or is it a fish-plant?)
You and I are certainly not the first and won’t be the last person to try to live life independent of our God. Our sinful nature thinks we have our life all figured out! Being organized, tidy, scheduled— these are measures of success on the earthly side. Our old Adam thinks if we only accomplish or obtain that *one more thing*, then we will finally find contentment and be happy. Feeling overtaken by life and feeling all alone or the opposite, feeling so overly confident in what we can accomplish are both the result of life lacking our Savior. In the end, the truth is that we need Him.
We need Jesus to hold our hand.
God is our all-knowing, all-powerful, ever present God. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness. His staff and his rod, they comfort me. (Psalm 23) He does this. Not me.
When I find myself floundering through life or even flat on my face by my own doing, it’s usually true that I’m not holding the truths I know as dear and as close as they should be. Fortunately for us, we have forgiveness through our Savior. We can run back to our Father’s arms and ask for guidance, strength, patience, peace, comfort, and contentment. The Holy Spirit builds our faiths through our prayers and through our Bible studies. We just need to stop leaping off the curb alone and let God support us.
Romans 10:17, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
1 Corinthians 1:31, “Therefore, as it is written: Let him who boasts boasts in the Lord.”
Isaiah 40:29-31, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles'; they will run and not grow weary, that will walk and not be faint.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the me, myself and I and to forget that we don’t need to walk through this life alone. Thankfully for us, God gives us a hand to hang on to before we set off.