Why Christmas Can Be Hard


eagle-1132464-mIn the best of times, Christmas can be hard. For me, there were Christmas programs to rehearse and then to attend while “monitoring” a host of lovely junior highers. All in a day’s work. But so was practicing and coaching my team in a Christmas basketball tournament, buying and parceling out Christmas goodies to give to my homeroom, decorating the room and hanging Christmas bulletin boards.

Then there was the Christmas church program, gifts to buy and wrap for my family, decorations in my home, a church party, a school faculty party.

Of course, times weren’t always the best. There was the occasional cold, progress reports that happened to fall the week before vacation, travel plans, stormy weather.

In short, Christmas time is far from restful. Add in the fact that Christians often receive admonitions to “keep Christ in Christmas.” All the busy-ness and we are supposed to incorporate worship. In fact we are supposed to make all the other things serve worship.

It can be hard.

I mentioned in “Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven” that losing someone you care about can make Christmas hard, but so can relational problems, long distance moves, marriage break-ups.

In all this, I’m convinced that God doesn’t want the remembrance of His Son’s birth to be a source of despair or doubt of fatigue or sadness. He is a God who prescribed lavish celebrations for His chosen people as part of their worship of Him. He is a God who promises feasting and parties for those who come to Him. He is a God whose Holy Spirit produces, among other things, the fruit of joy and peace.

Add to this the fact that He gives the gift of grace and forgiveness so we do not have to earn right standing with Him–as if we could anyway. Rather, what He wants is our joyful, grateful response–the pure exhilaration at finding ourselves unshackled and the overflowing appreciation poured upon the One who broke our bonds.

Our exhilaration and appreciation can come out in all the things we do at Christmas time. We can decorate and do Christmas programs, shop and wrap, party and perform all in light of God’s great gift. We love because He first loved us. We serve because He served us. We sacrifice because He first laid down His life for us.

If we are mindful of what God has done for us, if we do not look at Jesus as a perpetual baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, if we have responded and are responding to His greatest gift, then our Christmas may be hard, but it will be the kind of hard that has purpose. Like training for the Olympics, only better.

And in the end, we’ll be preoccupied with looking to God and will forget to check to see how hard things are for us today.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the fnstrength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:21-31)

Published in: on December 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm  Comments Off on Why Christmas Can Be Hard  
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Christmas Trees


christmas-time-1408534-mReal or plastic?

When I was growing up, real was the only way, in part because it was the cheapest way. I sort of felt sorry for people who had to have fake trees. They came in all kinds of outlandish colors, looking more like gigantic sno-cones than evergreen trees. They had a real feel of the future, though, made from plastic or metallic foil, as they were.

And then came a twist–fake trees made to look like the real thing.

Suddenly there was an attraction to fake trees: no yearly expense for a new one, no need to remember to water it, no messy needles to clean up. The downside? I suppose the initial payout might be steep, and for those of us who enjoy the fragrance of pine, that’s missing. Of course, there’s the loss of tradition, too, since families won’t be heading to a Christmas tree lot one cold night after Thanksgiving, picking out a tree, loading it on top of their car, and setting it up in their living room.

Still, for many, there seems to be a lot more up side than down to these artificial trees.

Of course, there is also the issue of decorating trees. Should the lights be multicolored or all of one uniform color? Are the ornaments classical and identical or are they handmade and representative of a person or family’s interests and activities? Do you use tinsel? A star or an angel?

Christmas_tree_in_TexasLike Christmas presents, Christmas trees and lights and all the decorations, for that matter, occupy a good amount of money, time, and energy during this busy season. For those locked in bleak climates of white snow and gray clouds, the colorful reds and greens of Christmas can be a refreshing break to the monotony and drabness of winter that has just set in.

So is there a Christian worldview of Christmas trees and all the accompanying decorations?

I think so. I think there’s a Christian worldview of everything, though that will not play out the same from one home to another, let alone from one country to another. Nevertheless, I think the Bible gives us some guidance.

First, God, in laying out what His tabernacle was to look like, included beautiful things. He included candles and incense and fine priestly garments. He gave detailed instructions for a gold table and cherubs and an ark. He specified the handcrafted curtains with an intricate design.

In other words, creating beautiful things and a beautiful atmosphere was part of creating a place of worship. Can that translate into our homes, especially when all that we do at Christmas time is not concerned with worship?

Well, there’s the real point, isn’t it. Shouldn’t a Christian’s life be about worship? I mean, our bodies, Scripture says, are temples of the Holy Spirit. So why wouldn’t our homes, where we spend time day in and day out, be as significant as, say, our church?

I’m not saying decoration is mandated in Scripture, but clearly having beautiful things, especially at a time of celebration, is consistent with what God instituted for the nation Israel.

I also think Christmas trees and decorations can be a form of giving. I mean, chances are people in a family may have different ideas about the way things should look and how things should be done. The first gift a person can give, then, is peaceful assent. In other words, cheerfully and joyfully doing things the way the other person wants to do them.

Maybe it could be Johnny’s turn to be in charge of the decorations–picking the day when everything comes out of the attic or basement or storage bin and making the critical decisions where to put the manger scene and whether we’ll put tinsel on the tree.

The Christian worldview of Christmas trees and decorations, then, includes putting people first, aiming to be considerate and humble, not demanding and selfish.

Are trees and decorations the real meaning of Christmas? Far, far from it. But in and through the process and the enjoyment of the end results, God can be front and center, and wants to be–not by us forcing religious significance to the tree (which can be legitimately done, if a person wants to do it), but by using the occasion to be Christian–to be a worshiper, to be a person who loves and serves others.

Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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