The bright, shiny lights of the Christmas tree are up. The newly wrapped gifts have been carefully placed underneath.
Let's face it. Christmas can be a weird time. We go into debt, spending what we don’t have, trying to soothe our guilt over something that happened years ago. Or, because we're convinced that if Meghan doesn’t get that desired expensive gift all will be lost. If we're alone, we can look at our forlorn little tree, if we even bothered with one, frustrated that yet another year goes by and we have no one to share it with. Then there’s the competing demands of different family members who all want a piece of us at Christmas time. And that’s before we add to the mix the rude, drunken relatives some of us have to endure, or the family wars that can break out over Christmas dinner. Always special.
Christmas can also be a time for comparing. Look at those crazy Jones’, we think. They’ve got lights that are timed to music! They seem to have so many fun parties going on that I’m never invited to. Every year their kids get the latest and greatest things. They seem so happy. Why can’t I have that, too? Never mind that the Jones’ could’ve maxed out their 8th credit card and may be swimming in debt up to their eyeballs! We can get so caught up in looking at the mirage of Christmas all around us, we forget to look at what is real, what truly matters.
So what is real? What does matter? I’m glad you asked …
Jesus. Yep, that's pretty much it. Only it's not a little thing, the birth of Jesus. It's a life-giving, transformative, paradigm shifting, universe re-aligning occurrence that allows mere humans, flawed and broken though we are, to participate in the divine. To have a secret inner life that allows us to escape the trappings of this world that would defeat us and hold us down. To have a clearer path to navigating the past guilt, the tendency to over spend, to never feel alone even when we are, and to navigate family with a humble confidence only God can give.
The secret to a great holiday season? Jesus. Actually focus on Jesus. Meditate on why he had to come, what his goal was. Read a gospel - Matthew, Mark, Luke or John - and focus on the actions and words of Jesus. What is he telling you? What is he showing you to reach toward for your inner life? How will that change impact your outer life? Why is he trying to help you (because he is!)?
Establish holiday traditions that honor Jesus in a way that makes sense to you. Special traditions that are your own, between you and the Lord, that aren't dependent on others. Ones that honor him and remind you of what this time is supposed to be about anyway.
Put boundaries in place to curb your spending, or perhaps the time you'll spend with crazy Uncle Izzy. Decide in advance how much of Aunt Meg's incredible pie you're going to eat or the number of alcoholic beverages you're going to consume so you don't wake up with regret the next morning. Remember that we're here to celebrate Jesus, and the gifts, the pies, the alcohol and the family are meant to circle around that celebration, not the other way around. And if you have a crazy family dynamic, decide in advance when you're going to leave, then stick to it. Don't get sucked into the crazy; walk away before it starts.
Jesus came to give us life, life to the full. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy," Jesus reminds us. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10, NIV). Jesus is freely holding that gift of life right out in front of each one of us. It is a gift that gives freedom, peace, healing and transformation. To truly thrive this Christmas, let's reach for his gift first. It's the only one that will really matter, the only one that will last long after the lights come down, the trees wind up at the curb and the ornaments are packed away.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT: What are some of your personal Christmas traditions? If you haven't established any "Jesus" traditions and aren't sure where to start, consider the following:
Attend a church service on Christmas Eve that is worship focused
Read through one of the gospels to take a closer look at Jesus. If you've done this before, try it again in a different version of the Bible to enrich your understanding.
Spend extended time in prayer on Christmas Eve or Christmas day
Make a list of all the ways the Lord has blessed you this past year, or what you are grateful to him for.
Sing some Christmas hymns, but really focus in on the words. How do those words apply to your life? What do they mean to you? Reflect and meditate on what you see. Make this a new Christmas habit.
Give Jesus a gift. Get creative! You can go place it in a manger somewhere, or place it in a special spot only you and God know about. Or put it on display somewhere as a touchstone for you about who the Lord is in your life.
There are many, many other ways you can make Jesus the focus of your Christmas. Post your ideas in the comments - would love to hear them!
PRAYER: Papa, in a season that the world would turn into many other things, help me to focus in on the one thing that matters: Jesus. Help me to thrive in your name this Christmas, remembering that you so love me that you sent your only Son to die on the cross for my sins so I could be set free. Let me embrace that freedom today and always to the glory of your name. Thank you for the incredible gift of eternal life you give to me and to all who believe in you. May I walk hand-in-hand with you this Christmas and always. Amen.