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I'll never forget the Christmas that...(part 2)

Getting sick at Christmas is the worst. 

A week or so before Christmas in 1992 (my sophomore year), I felt a cold coming on. Sore throat, stuffy nose, sinus headache. Nothing to worry about - it felt like a normal cold that typically passes in a day or two. Around day 3, I started running a fever (ugh) and had to miss my mid-terms at school (cool!)...and then things got real. 

By the time my parents took me to the doctor, I had developed a sinus infection, tonsilitis, and bronchitis. I was a little better by the time Christmas Eve rolled around and I was able to go with my family to my dad's parents' house for dinner and presents. The fever was gone but my throat still felt like I had gargled with broken glass and barb wire. Undeterred, I piled my plate high with my Maw-maw's best food. I grimaced through every delicious bite, but it was worth it.

Why do I tell you all of this? 

Sometimes things at Christmas don't go the way we want them to go. We plan, we anticipate, we carefully choose gifts and wrap them beautifully (at least, some of us wrap beautifully). Even with all of that effort, somebody gets sick and somebody else is not happy with their present and something gets overcooked and another family member starts arguing over dinner about whatever and, well, you get the idea. Our expectations get thwarted and Christmas becomes a stressful ordeal, not at all like the Christmas scenes we get on the Hallmark Channel. And if we spend the season of Advent working and planning and preparing only to see those plans and preparations falter, even partially, it can leave us feeling drained, frustrated, even hurt. 

It might be helpful for us to be reminded every year that Christmas is not about us. It's not about our plans or expectations. It's not about the perfect gift or the perfect meal or the perfect decorations. Those things can be fun and certainly time spent with family and friends is meaningful and important. But Christmas is about God's great love for us, made human and real for us in the birth of Jesus. Remembering that the truth behind all of our cultural Christmas 'stuff' is about God becoming like us in order to redeem us might help us better handle the stuff that doesn't go right - whether it's being sick, dealing with annoying family members, feeling stressed, or struggling with grief and sadness.  

And like me on that Christmas Eve in '92 with my sore throat and my plate piled high with turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy, we can celebrate and give thanks anyway, even if it's not what we planned and it doesn't make the discomfort disappear completely.  

I'll never forget the Christmas that...

The Holiday season is fraught with mixed emotions for many of us, even if we don’t talk about it much.  There are sorrows, disappointments, frustrations, past hurts present for us along with the joy, peace, hope and love of the season.  For me the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a real challenge because I lost my father 3 weeks before Christmas in 1980.  I am not alone here, many of you have lost loved ones at this time of year as well.  If you have not, I am sure many of you find your grief around who is not at the table heightened at “the most wonderful time of the year.”   I could share with you my best Christmas’ ever but I think I’d rather share about the Christmas I spent part of the morning alone in the garage sitting on the bed of the truck crying.  

It was 2014, one of the harder years of my life that included laying to rest 2/5th of my aunts and uncles.  I had labored furiously in the weeks leading up to Christmas to make sure I planned the best worship services that would not disappoint and to ensure that all our loved ones received the best present- something that showed love, thought, and intentionality.   Christmas Eve was lovely and holy and Christmas morning was full of the joy and smiles of my beloveds.  So, why was I crying on the bed of the truck?  Earrings.  No joke.  My husband bought me a lovely pair of earrings that were not my most favorite style and I ended up outside in an attempt to hide my disappointment and tears from him.    

As I sat there alone in the cold composing myself and reflecting I thought, “Surely this can’t be about earrings?”  What was going on that made me so upset?  Why was I letting petty little things irritate me? Here’s what I figured out: I’m always disappointed because no one can get me what I most want for Christmas.  An end to grief does not come wrapped in a pretty box.  The person missing at the table cannot be replaced at a sale on Black Friday.  No gift anyone can give me can make up for the losses.  So, this commercialized version of Christmas, the one that starts Black Friday and ends as soon as the gifts are unwrapped on Christmas will always disappoint. 

The good news for me and you is that there is another thing going on in the same time period as commercial Christmas, we call it Advent.  Advent is a time of spiritual preparation.  It is a time of reflection, repentance, examination, and perspective changing.  Advent is less financially costly but more spiritually costly.  It is less shiny and more still and reflective.  It has gifts to be sure, but they are nothing like the other gifts most of us are buying this time of year.  Peace, love, hope, joy…the only real antidotes to disconnection, isolation, grief, and despair…these gifts of the true Christmas do not disappoint us.  Sitting on the bed of the truck I realized I’d been preparing for the wrong Christmas.  Toiling and spinning did not get me what I most longed for because it can’t be hustled, bought, or put on Santa’s list.  What I most needed could only be received in rest and return to God.  There on the bed of the truck I received what I needed – reminder I was not alone, hope is real, and God has not abandoned us. 

It is so very easy to get caught up in the swirl of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas rather than easing into the invitation to preparing for Jesus’ Advent among us.  It is hard to change the family traditions and the impulse to meet everyone’s expectations and get the perfect gift.  And yet, for me and for many of you, the only way to meet the reality of the sorrow we feel in this season of lights is to change our focus and remember that Jesus came to meet us in our suffering and fill it with his presence.  If you find yourself where I was in 2014 (and still find myself some days) may I invite you to speak it, share it, take it to the Lord in prayer, make room for reflection, cease your toil and spin and meet God who has been waiting for you.  He was waiting for me on the bed of that truck in 2014 and it was the best gift I got that Christmas.  I pray I’ll never forget it.  

Growing Together...

Millimeter by millimeter, month by month, one attempt after another…eventually I could reach it.

I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember when I could finally touch the top of the doorframe leading out of the living room of the house I grew up in. Along with a column of pencil marks on that same doorframe indicating my height on each birthday, it was noticeable evidence of my growth. The smudges on that doorframe and several others in that house that accumulated over the years also gave testimony to the continued growth (and the seemingly constant dirty hands) of a young kid.

For our bodies as well as our souls, growth is a slow process. On a day-to-day basis, it's almost unnoticeable. Even so, one day you can't reach the doorframe and one day you can jump up and touch it. And when you see the results of that growth, it's exhilarating and joyful!

Over the next year, we will be going on a journey together through the Christian year. You are invited to walk with us as we dive deep into God's Word, meet together in small groups to share about how God at work in our lives, and worship with us as we move together in the rhythm of the Christian year.

To get started, check out Scripture texts and devotions leading up to the first Sunday of Advent.

Starting on January 1, we encourage you to use the lectionary-based daily devotions found in The Upper Room DisciplinesWe also have copies available here at the church for $10. 

Throughout the year, be on the lookout for opportunities to grow in faith, love, and service through small groups, worship, fellowship, and mission opportunities. We are so excited about what God has in store for us and for our church in the coming year - join us as we grow together in faith, love, and service! 

 

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