Christmas seems to get more complicated as we get older, doesn’t it? Less magic and mystery and more hustle and bustle. I’ve been trying to reclaim the magic somehow again this year but try as I might, I find myself again in the hustle. Striving. Doing. Working. Never really at rest.
Oh how reflective this is of the tension between works and grace!
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special with my family. It’s already December 23rd and I still have yet to watch it…hopefully in the next couple of days I’ll find half an hour to hide away from all the busy and enjoy. Anyway…I’ve watched this special almost every year for most of my life. But a couple years ago, there was someone who pointed out something that I had never noticed before. When Linus is reciting THE Christmas story from Luke 2, and he arrives to the place where the angel says “FEAR NOT”…he drops his blanket. And it stays on the ground for the rest of the story. The item which always brought Linus so much security and comfort, even identity….is immediately released upon the proclamation of the good news of the birth of Jesus, who’s love would cast out all fear.
This time of year, my security blanket is definitely “the good times”. What I mean by that is, I base so much of my sense of “holiday spirit” on what we’ve planned with family, with friends, what gifts would be perfect for everyone, how pretty the wrapping is, the perfectly decorated Christmas tree with the warm white lights (NOT cool white or colorful lights), the right music to set just the right tone, the perfect candle that’s just the right balance of fruity and spicy, food that looks and tastes good…and not wanting to miss out on a single thing, all in the name of soaking up every moment and seizing every opportunity for celebration.
The problem is, that’s exhausting. And when you’re exhausted during the holidays, it defeats the purpose of everything you’re striving for…those “warm fuzzy” feelings of joy the holidays used to always bring. It’s hard to make memories when all you want to do is have a drink and go to sleep.
I have definitely said yes to too much this year. At the beginning of the holidays, with a job change looming on the New Year’s horizon, I told myself, “Let’s just enjoy everything December has to offer this year. No excuses. Just be all in.” Sounds nice until my calendar is suddenly so jam-packed there’s barely a moment to stop and reflect and not be so….busy. Somewhere there could have been a balance but I surpassed that way too long ago. Maybe next year will be better?
When I think about my faith journey, I do a lot of this. Here’s this free gift of grace…unmerited favor, Jesus dying so I could be in communion with the Father forever, and nothing I do can earn or deny such love. AND YET, I still get tricked into trying to earn it. In the name of living out true faith, we do good things, serve people, disciple them, do more, do more…and to say no to something that would please God suddenly feels like failing God. If I don’t do this thing, won’t I disappoint Him? If I don’t do this right, won’t I have failed Him? I don’t want God mad at me for not stacking up to the good person He doesn’t need me to be.
You know what’s way easier than trying to do everything and get everything perfect at the holidays? Just being with people instead of trying to impress them. You know what’s way easier than striving to be a good person? Actually resting in God’s grace and promises instead of trying to impress Him. God doesn’t need anything from us. We are invited into His good works, but not as a means to earn favor. It’s part of the gift of salvation that we are even free to do things that glorify His name. We don’t do it so that He’ll love us. We do it because He loves us.
Even as I write this, the true meaning of Christmas that Linus so confidently expresses in front of his friends feels lofty to me. Every year, that moment makes me cry. Every year, it stops everything else and re-centers my heart on what Christmas is about, I think more than any church service ever has. In the middle of the chaos, all his friends trying to create the perfect, most awesome Christmas experience they could ever strive for, he confidently take center stage and simply recites scripture, dropping the thing that he carries around every day that everyone identifies Him with. For that moment, the story—the Word—is the only important thing, the thing he finds the most confidence in.
Oh, that we would have faith like Linus in that moment! That amidst all the noise, we could confidently pause and get quiet and shine the spotlight on why Christmas is even a thing at all. Because then the Christmas tree doesn’t have to be perfect. We can give the gifts knowing that even if we gave nothing, we still have an even greater gift in the presence of our friends and families. We can host less like Martha and more like Mary. We can miss the Charlie Brown Christmas special for the first time in years and still be reminded of truth because the Word is right here, with us.
We are free from these things that bind us with anxiety and fear because He is with us. And His love IS perfect. And perfect love casts out ALL fear.
So fear not. He is God with us.
Stop, remember, and be thankful.
And out of that gratitude, go be WITH one another and pour out love with confidence.
I pray that this Christmas season would be filled to the brim, not with things or events or burdens, but with the joy and peace that surpasses all understanding, that comes from knowing and loving our Emmanuel, God with us.
Merry Christmas, from The Messy Coffee Table.