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The Most Wonderful Time?
I love Christmas! I don't know about you, but ever since I was a child I have loved this special time of year. I guess maybe our childhood memories of the holiday have a lot to do with how we view it as adults. Even if our childhood Christmases were disappointing, we decide our grownup Christmases will be perfect.
My own memories are wonderful! We weren't a Christian family back then, but it was a special time anyway. My father built a small wooden stable, and we set up our manger scene every year. My mother baked for days: cookies and candies and holiday breads. Christmas Eve was spent delivering goodies to neighbors and loved ones. We just loved seeing everyone else's decorations and putting up our own.
So it's no wonder, with memories like these, that I still love Christmas and want it to be just as wonderful for my own family. Along about October, I get out my Christmas magazines and craft books and begin planning for the holiday. By the way, that's not early enough! Invariably I run out of time and energy, and sometimes out of money, too. And invariably the Lord brings me back down to earth by reminding me what this is really, actually all about. One of my craft books is "Scrap Savers Christmas Stitchery" by Sandra Lounsbury Foose. In the introduction she offers some very wise words:
"How quickly the Christmas season is upon us... At Christmas time, I always need more Christmas TIME! There's not even a moment to open one of those magazines that promise 'The Very Best Christmas Ever.'
"Then, in the midst of all this busyness, I remember that the miracle and the memories of Christmas are the true gifts of the season. So even if my own preparations aren't complete, Christmas is complete."
Isn't that true? In our quest for the perfect Christmas, we forget that the perfect Christmas has already occurred.
She goes on to say, "As you begin your holiday plans, think about the miracle of that first Christmas, which really was 'The Best Christmas Ever."
And that is so true. That is what we need to be focusing on. That's one reason I always look forward to our Ladies' Christmas Fellowship at church. It never fails to help me get my plans into the right perspective. But we should be doing that anyway. How?
I'm as guilty as anyone else of trying to cram too much into December. Church and school activities, decorating, sewing, baking, shopping, wrapping, sending cards -- it all takes time! How can we choose what and what not to do so that we don't lose sight of what it's really all about?
Here is a Scripture to help us with our choices. "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2) This has long been a favorite verse of mine, and it has helped me with making decisions about other things. The Phillips translation says it this way: "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold." A paraphrase of this verse says: "Don't copy the behaviors and customs of the world."
All Christians should be nonconformists to the world's thinking. There are many facets of the way the world looks at Christmas that many not be harmful, but distract us from its real meaning. For example, it's wonderful to decorate your house for the holiday, but not if it keeps you from coming to church. It's fine to get all your craft projects, shopping, and wrapping done early, but not if you neglect your devotions in the process.
Have you noticed that in addition to those articles that promise the very best Christmas ever, there's another kind of article, usually in the same magazine? These have titles like this:
1) "The Holidays -- Heavenly or Hectic?"
2) "In Pursuit of Tranquility"
3) "Fending Off the Holiday Blues"
4) "95 Holiday Survival Tips"
5) "150 Ways to Conquer Christmas Chaos"
And my personal favorite,
6) "'Twas the Night Before Christmas -- and Nothing was Done!"
As I read over one of these articles, I found myself translating it into terms that will help the Christian keep a right perspective on Christmas. It was helpful to me, and I'm sure it will be to you also.
1)The first point: Maintain your focus on what is important to you.
As Christians, our first priority is to please the Lord. So any activities need to be considered in light of His Word. We've already looked at Romans 12:2 and the fact that we shouldn't conform to this world. Another priority at Christmastime -- and all the time -- is to spend time with other believers. Hebrews 10:25 encourages us: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." We are to be out for church services and spending time encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ. In years when Christmas falls on a Sunday, this can be especially challenging. And yet, what better place is there to be on the day we celebrate Christ's birth?
2) Practice calm.
The best way for a believer to remain calm is to depend upon the Lord moment by moment. Spend much time in prayer and in meditating on God's Word. Luke 18:1 reminds us, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint." The word "faint" here means "to lose heart." When do we lose heart? When we don't keep praying about a matter, but try to take things into our own hands and solve the problem with our own efforts. It doesn't work. No wonder we lose heart! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us, "Pray without ceasing." Let's also consider Philippians 4:6-7: "Be careful for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." That word "careful" means "anxious". So we are to be anxious for nothing, but to pray and trust the Lord for the outcome.
3) Look beyond the trimmings.
This really should be #1. What is the reason we are celebrating? We are all familiar with John 3:16. Yes, God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to die to save sinners like you and me. Galatians 4:4-5 says, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." The words of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11 are a good reminder to us: "Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."
4) Evaluate your expectations.
We shouldn't expect our holiday to live up to our childhood memories or to the world's idea of a perfect Christmas. Make sure our activities and choices line up with God's Word. Psalm 32:8 reminds us that God will help us with our choices: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye." Psalm 119:105 tells us, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
5) Curb the holiday splurge.
Don't spend money you can't afford to spend. Remember Acts 20:35 -- it is more blessed to give than to receive. Even with your children, try to keep the emphasis on what they will be giving -- not what they will be getting. Some practical suggestions that worked for me: Have children make gifts or buy small gifts for everyone on their list. At present-opening time, have each one hand out a present, then everyone watches the recipient open the gift before going on to another.
6) Reach out to someone else.
In particular, reach out to them with friendship and with the Gospel. At this time of year, people are often more receptive to spiritual things. For years, we've baked cookies and made up plates of them for our neighbors, tying them up with a pretty ribbon and adding a lovely Christmas tract. During this season, many of us will put tracts in our Christmas cards or find the opportunity to speak a word of witness to family and friends. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs, "Be ready always to give an answer to every man of the hope that is in you.. ."
7) Be kind to yourself.
The best way to do this is to do the things which please God. An important biblical principle is that obedience is always followed by blessing. John 13:17 encourages us: "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
8) Create "white" spaces.
The article I was reading defined "white" spaces as "restful, uncrowded margins of time." Doesn't that sound wonderful? For the Christian, these times are best spent communing with the Lord. Take that time at the beginning of every day to read your Bible and pray. Commit your day into His hands, and He will give you strength for all you need to do. "Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass." (Psalm 37:5)
I'd like to close with a thought from my friend Karyl Bannister, from her essay in the December 1989 issue of Cook & Tell. She wrote: "Traditions bring comforting predictability to holiday observances and thus seem to simplify this busy time, to make it somewhat easier to do all the things we think we must do for this grand occasion... But what are we celebrating -- the traditions themselves, or that humblest and most hallowed happening of ages ago, that occasioned the traditions in the first place? Just what is it that we observe, in the midst of the merriment? Are the bits of business that fidget around the edges of this truly momentous event, too busy?" She adds, "As life unfolds its seasons and its lessons, it offers choices at every turn."
May our choices this Christmas season be those that glorify God, point our friends and neighbors to Him, encourage our fellow believers, and bless our own lives with His joy. It truly can be "the most wonderful time of the year"!