Do you ever get confused about how to celebrate Christmas? The choices are infinite.
Do I focus on nativity scenes, Santa Claus or both? Colored lights or white? The store aisles are so full of stuff you can hardly move, how do I decide what to buy? How many gifts for the kids? Or do we skip presents altogether and give to the poor. Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? Whatever happened to that red cup thing? Does this prayer sound familiar moms, “Lord, please don’t let my kid be the one who spills the beans in front of his entire class about this whole Santa charade!” The stimuli of the holidays can put me into overload before the season even starts. The expectations have turned into something that borderlines lunacy. Some of you are on the brink of an anxiety attack just looking at this short list of examples.
Recently, I’ve experienced a tugging at my heart to observe Christmas differently so I started exploring Advent. I read something that has helped frame my thoughts on it. In the book Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster says “The Christ event is the heart of scripture. Everything in the Bible either looks forward to Christ or flows from Christ. And the Bible is a faithful record both of God’s dealings with his children in preparing them for the coming of Christ and of their response to his advent. It is important to know the Christ event is an Incarnational reality rooted in history.” The lens of these words helps me see wrapped up in the season, a unique invitation to focus on the Christ event (Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection) and let that form my thoughts and meditations.
Advent is a time to wholeheartedly respond with appreciation and love to Jesus’ coming and it is a time to remember the promise of the advancing Kingdom that will be fully revealed at His second and final coming. The time when all of creation will experience life as God originally intended. A time when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This focus brings relief not anxiety.
I am as practical as the day is long and I need to know how does all of this translate into my life today? How does Jesus influence me as I train and teach my two energetic, and at times seemingly lawless, sons and as I listen to the unending questions and commentary of my three year old. What does Incarnation really even mean and how does it affect my marriage, my friendships, my contentment, my budget, my joy and peace? As my thoughts begin to circle around God’s coming in flesh (incarnation) and His love that motivated it, my heart moves to a quieter space and I sense a searching in my soul to become more aware of God’s presence with us, with me right now.
Richard Foster goes on to say that “The Incarnational stream of Christian life and faith focuses upon making present and visible the realm of the invisible spirit. This sacramental way of living addresses the crying need to experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life.” Advent has been helpful in discovering and responding to that “crying need to experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life”.
So where do I look to find God’s sovereign activity during this Advent season? First, I look to God’s Word. From Genesis to Revelation, we see God’s desire to be with His people sown throughout His message. In the book of Matthew we are reminded of the words of Isaiah, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, (which means God with us.)” These words reassure me that my desire to be with God was created for a divine purpose and will be met by a divine Being. Christmas serves as a reminder that God has literally entered into our worlds and is active in it.
Let’s look at Luke 2 for a really practical example. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world would be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David” What is so fascinating to me here is the ordinariness of these words. They are regular, mundane, everyday, plain, old words. Joseph and Mary must have thought that this order was a total interruption! But God. God was up to something. John Piper says that “God is always doing 10,000 things in our lives, and we may be aware of 3 of them.” This statement overwhelms me. Through Luke’s account, we see Joseph and Mary just doing the next thing which was the command of registration given by the government. I cannot think of anything less interesting and more commonplace then registering for a census. But God was working in it. It was His desire that the humble birth of Christ happen with a census as the backdrop . I pray that through those words in Luke, the Holy Spirit would fling your eyes wide open to His divine, mysterious activity in your own regular life. He is doing something right now and most likely it feels very regular, boring or maybe even painfully difficult. But God is meaningfully working in your days, creating a magnificent thread that is being woven into a much grander story! Preach that to yourself everyday and you will see God’s goodness in your life.
Let’s loop back to celebrating Advent. I can’t tell you what it should look like in your own life but I can share what shape it is taking in my own. As I reflect on the hope of Christ this season, I am trying to be more intentional about teaching my kids to focus more on God quietly sneaking into His world through the womb of a humble servant and less of celebrating the figment of a large white man shimmying down my chimney to deliver the bounty of stores and production lines. Our hope cannot be bought in a store and our kids need to understand that. I am learning to celebrate more the servant heart of our King and remembering his example as I seek to love and serve my husband well. As I reflect on the life of Jesus and the friendships He cultivated with his disciples, I desire to spend more time with my own friends and family. As I think about how he ministered to those in need around Him, I am challenged to be generous with those in need around me. As I meditate on all that He sacrificed to be with us, I realize that He is enough. He is my portion and my cup overflows. How can I not be content with the amazing grace He has richly provided.
Now don’t hear me wrong. I am still buying gifts.
After all, our God is the most excellent example of generosity. He spoils His children with grace, mercy and love. Every good and perfect gift is from above! I will still create delicious food because God is the perfect example of the sustainer of our souls. I will still decorate my house because I’ve been made in the image of God, who is the most talented artist and decorator that has ever existed. You don’t have to push your mind very far to think of the exquisiteness of snow, mountains and sunsets! His beauty is endless. But as Christ followers we have the opportunity to take part in all of those things with a different spirit.
We have been entrusted with God’s truth and love and as spreaders of His good news we should be culture creators, not culture imitators. There is so much hoopla about taking Christ out of Christmas. That is because we live in a world where so many have not encountered Jesus and Christians are the ones who have bought into the world’s life depleting ways. We have to own that mistake, we are not victims on that one. For those who have not encountered Jesus in a meaningful way, let them celebrate the way they want. God will meet His people in His timing. But what would happen if we sincerely drew near to God this season, in our own personal places? Our lives would erupt with the love of the Father and it would overflow to everyone around us! Christians can practice an Advent culture and create a path for those around us to follow. Let the world celebrate Christmas how it wants. I want to celebrate Jesus! That is the culture I want to create.