Christmas is coming!
Does that warm your heart? Are you excited to find or make perfect gifts for everyone on your list? Do you anticipate relaxed evenings gathered around the fire, delightful afternoons making cookies, evenings caroling and partying? Will you decorate your home with the most beautiful Christmas tree ever, and brighten the neighborhood with your extravagant light display?
Most of all, will you spend extra time with God, focusing on the incredible significance of His light shining in our darkness and thanking Jesus for coming as one of us?
Or does the approach of Christmas bring jammed schedules, unending to-do lists, financial stress, and the dread of having to be nice to that relative yet again? Do the holidays exhaust you? Does the thought of spending extra time with God mean one more thing that you don’t have time for, leaving you feeling guilty and unfulfilled?
Are you a Mary—or a Martha? (If you’re not familiar with the story, you can read it in Luke 10:38-42.)
Our culture is full of Marthas. We’re more concerned with getting everything done than in sitting at Jesus’ feet. If we want to be different, we need to make a conscious effort. Doing that might involve going against the flow. It might involve disappointment, either ours or among our family. It might involve sacrifice. But isn’t the result worth it? Remember, we have a pearl of great price, and we should be willing to let go of lesser things to possess it. (Matthew 13:44)
As Christmas approaches, go back and reread Luke 2: 1-20. We know the story so well, it’s hard to get a fresh perspective. This time, focus on what isn’t there.
We know better than to expect mention of Santa and his reindeer or elves on shelves, but do you see anything about decorations? That includes holly, mistletoe, and poinsettias, Christmas trees and ornaments, lights and wreaths. How about cookies, stollen and fruitcake? Do you see any mention of carolers (or even singing angels?)? How about Christmas cards and annual letters?
Then there’s the biggie—shopping! Yes, the magi eventually showed up with presents, but Jesus was probably a toddler by that time. (This is an excellent excuse if you’re late with your gifts.)
I don’t know what Christmas traditions you keep, but whatever they are, there’s a very good chance that they’re part of your cultural heritage, and have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth.
There is nothing wrong with all the extra things we do over the holidays. God loves parties (find proof in Deuteronomy 14:26). Christmas trees are pretty. Cookies are delicious. And who doesn’t love to get presents? However—any of these things can become an idol when we would rather shop, bake, or hang decorations instead of spending time with God. He needs to come first.
A number of years ago, Pete and I sat down with our family to discuss which traditions were truly important to us, and which ones we could forgo if we ran out of time, energy, and/or money. I was surprised that some things I considered inviolate where in fact not important to anyone else. Together, we made a list and prioritized it. It was amazingly freeing.
Now that I no longer try to do everything, I have time to open God’s Christmas gift to me—His presence.