What’s Under Your Tree?

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!” ― Dave Barry

“Peace is the only battle worth waging.” ― Albert Camus

Sometimes getting prepared for Christmas seems like waging war. There are gifts to think about, purchase, wrap, hide, remember and haul around. All that beautiful wrapping paper and ribbons to wad up and push into garbage bags. Dinners to plan, prepare and clear up (10 minutes later). So much decorating! Why is there all this traffic on the way to every social event?

I’m a professor, and in my house getting ready for the holiday season also means ending a semester with exams, papers and grading. So many loose ends to tie up. Why did so many students not worry about their grade until the last seconds? Happens every year since Plato I guess.

“One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

Our American version of Christmas can mess up your mind and heart if you’re not careful. Keep watch over your mood, how you treat others and what’s really important. Go to church, hear a Christmas musical, remember again what this all really means.

Loving others the way God loves us, every day, is the eternal gift that people never outgrow.

Are you starting to get every name checked off your list? Isn’t shopping online a wonderful new invention? Drawing names in a family also works well – dispersing the thoughtfulness more evenly and keeping the extravagance in check. I hate running around trying to fill up a bowl of obligation. Be certain to take the time to place under your tree gifts that matter. Something that conveys your own devotion not just a duty.

“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ” ― Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)

Steal a few moments from all the commotion around the table and tell each other something important. Pray out loud. Hold hands. Go over and sit next that aunt with the funny hairdo. Ask her to tell you about her favorite Christmas memory. Before it’s too late, think about the people on your list who are alone during this time of year – and do something about it. Make sure that your tree of blessing is seen and shared by others.

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!” ― Henry Van Dyke

It really isn’t that complicated, it’s not hard, but it is like shoveling snow (I imagine). Buried beneath all the clutter are the simple gestures of kindness, humanity and love. Just open the gate of your life a little more this month. Let the peace on earth and good will toward all run out like escaped pet dogs. This year, let’s all look at our trees as if they were our last. Let’s not take anything for granted. Let’s number our days and make each one count.

“For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”  ― John Ortberg

Stop every day during this season and wait, watch and listen. Find a corner to hide  in and reflect. Make sure that you don’t miss the train. There’s meaning all around you, but it can speed past if you aren’t watchful and mindful. Turn off the technology! Look carefully at your tree, is it ornamented with meaning? With objects of love and memory that you can share as often as anyone passes?

You remember the classic Shaker song (a dance number actually) that teaches so much about how to live in this world we’ve built for ourselves. It’s hard to imagine what the Shakers who first sang this in 1848 would think of today’s pace of life.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Be sure to save a simple moment today and be free from your busy-ness and everything that doesn’t really matter.

Free yourself to make this Christmas count.

 

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What Has Come to Your Life?

It’s Advent Season

Advent means coming – the coming of the Messiah, the long awaited one.

There’s always something coming around the bend, isn’t there?

  • Your annual scourge of the flu
  • A job transition
  • New neighbors next door
  • A new and revolutionary software upgrade
  • An 800 year flood

As you reflect on this past year, what came into your life? What welcome events made your year that much better? Which disasters appeared over your horizon?

Christmas is now here, arriving as it always does – too soon but also full of just the right hidden messages that we needed to hear every day of our lives. The Good News of Christmas, the advent it introduces every year, causes us to stop, if we have the courage, and think about the things that mean the most to us, and maybe what we ought to do about it.

“…And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

An advent of some sort or another is always appearing. This year, remember that nothing is going to arrive in your life that will surprise God or that can overwhelm his presence and power.

Even before the Good News was proclaimed in Bethlehem, God had promised his constant presence and protection.

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”  – Isaiah 43:1-2

God has not changed and his promise remains.

What has arrived in your life this past year? Perhaps it was something really big that disrupted everything you thought was so certain. Maybe your life was right on its normal track but when you think about it, it’s really going nowhere.

We celebrate the advent of the Messiah at Christmas, as a reminder that our lives in Christ are no longer the same and that nothing will ever arrive to put our lives out of his order. Christ is now with us. No matter what else arrives in the years to come, Christ will always be here with us. We celebrate this reality every Christmas.

“And I will be with you, day after day, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20 (The Voice)

“Because He has raised Jesus the Anointed from death, through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope…” – I Peter 1:3 (The Voice)

Christmas is the advent of every single day of hope that you and I have been living ever since. Be reminded this year that this hope is real because we live it out in front of the whole world each day (the good, the bad and and the ugly days). Jesus arrival, life, death and resurrection means that we can walk confidently in hope every single day.  It arrived and never left.

“The place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic, it was not a place of myths allegorised or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true.”  ― G.K. Chesterton