Jesus is born. Christmas is over. Some people are already posting pictures of their treeless living rooms and spotless kitchens, devoid of any remembrance of Christmas. Some people will not post a picture of their living rom for another three months because they know the garlands are still up and they do not want to deal with haters. Whatever works.
I’m not quite ready to give Christmas up yet. But I do wonder about the aftermath. Not mine, but His. I do imagine what happened after the stable was empty and the shepherds and magi had all gone home. What then?
The Bible gives us a few hints. Jesus was sought after—in order to kill him. Already, before he could walk, someone wanted him dead. His family ran to another country to be safe. That’s certainly a familiar story to anyone who pays attention to the news this year.
The glass bubble didn’t last long.
Jesus’ first five years were not the idyllic preschool romps through the countryside we imagine. They were filled with fear and danger. Within months, the world (and the devil) knew there was a new power in the world intent on turning our feeble ideas of power upside down and endangering our notions of what we deserve. Anyone intent on that becomes endangered himself.
Often, we ask ourselves the question, “What next after Christmas?” We remember the slightly depressed feeling we got as children, looking around at all the loot a week later, and wondering, “Is that it?” As adults, we do the same. We look around at all the carnage of wrapping paper, boxes that need to be refilled with decorations, and the reality check of our credit card bill, and we wonder, “Is that it?”
It is, if we never look beyond the baby in the manger. It’s time now to look at what happens next. It gives us an excellent clue as to what should happen next for us. Is this it? No—there is a whole lot more. But it involves danger and fear and confronting power that does not enjoy being confronted. It could get messy. Even messier than childbirth in a stable.
This is not comfortable to think about the week after Christmas. We prefer to keep the cuddly baby. Who wouldn’t?
But when we pack him away, don’t we want to know if it mattered at all? Doesn’t something nudge us to wonder if there’s a point beyond shiny paper and jingling bells? And even if we’re Christians who do believe there is, is there anything in our lives that demonstrates we know the grown up Jesus? That we’ve looked deeply at the aftermath for that baby and we’ve signed on to what it means?
So let’s move into it in the coming year. What happens next? What does Christmas move into? Does what happens to baby Jesus have anything to say about what should happen to us? Let’s discover that together in 2016. I’d love to hear your discoveries.
If I had the funds and the electrical ingenuity, mine would be one of those houses that can be seen from outer space at Christmastime. I love the lights the most. The bigger and crazier the display, the more I want to drive by it. Light displays are my guilty Christmas pleasure.
But maybe it shouldn’t be so guilty. God doesn’t seem to find unsparing celebration problematic at all, when the celebration is about Him.
In 2 Samuel, David celebrates the return of the ark of the covenant. He celebrates jubilantly, making sacrifices and dancing in the streets before God’s ark. It’s a vibrant parade, and David is the grand marshall. His wife doesn’t appreciate the dance, and the Bible says she despises him in her heart for his undignified display. It’s a drama-filled story, but what does it have to do with Christmas? (Here is the story, if you would like to read it.)
The ark represented God’s presence with His people. It held His covenant to be their God and guide them. When Exodus says a mercy seat covers the ark, it literally means “atonement seat.” Here, God met his people to broker reconciliation. For the Israelites, being without the ark meant being without an approachable God. Now, they felt they were bringing God’s presence back. David had reason to celebrate.
Christmas celebrates the place where God met with His people to reconcile finally, completely, with full atonement.
In His birth, Jesus provided a new and eternal mercy seat—Himself. Instead of an ark, a stable cradled a new covenant.
We have good reason to celebrate, and to celebrate wildly. David’s rapturous dance before the Ark poured from his adoration of God. It sprung out of his gratitude that God allowed his presence to be with His people.
Certainly our Christmas celebrations should be equally full of crazy, abundant gratitude. Our celebrations should “Make your faithfulness known through all generations” and “declare that your love stands firm forever” (Psalm 891-2). Letting something be known, making a declaration, dancing in the streets—these are all unabashed actions. It’s OK—it’s good—to make a big deal out of the fact that Jesus declared his presence among people with a cry in a manger.
There is no room in the season for a Michal who shakes her head at the joy and mutters, “Why so much?”
So how do we know when the big deal is about us and when is it about Jesus? We know the same way David did. When we are decorating trees or baking cookies out of the gratitude in our hearts that God is with us—we are celebrating like David. When we do it because we’re supposed to or we want to impress someone, we’re just having a holiday.
When we’re staring at the twinkling lights and reminding God (and ourselves) that we want to be all in in this new covenant, we’re celebrating like David. When we’re thinking instead about all the blacked-out spaces on our calendar, we’re enduring a season.
When we’re giving gladly to those we love, and to strangers who need it most, we’re celebrating like David. When we spend money we don’t have on people who don’t need it, we’re following customs rather than Jesus.
And when we’re judging other peoples’ celebrations— we’re being Michal. We’re pretending to enjoy the holiday, but we’re not celebrating Emmanuel. God with us.
Bright lights aren’t the point of Christmas; they’re a nice byproduct. When I can watch their colors arc across the darkness of a December night, I think of the Light of the World who arced across our darkness to bring His presence and mercy. I may even dance a little.
I learned about mercy and hope this morning while watching my daughter prep for oral surgery.
I had not known, until the technician informed me, that the Pope had declared this next year, since December 8, a special jubilee of mercy. I’m not Catholic; I didn’t know what a special jubilee was, no did I know the pope could call one. But he has, and he has opened up the special bricked up door in St. Peter’s to symbolize it.
I saw that door when we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. I remember it. I didn’t realize it’s significance.
All I could say to her was, “I dearly hope he’s right.”
The Friday Five linkup at Mrs. Disciple is on Hope. Five things we hope. This morning, I can’t think of anything I hope for more than exactly this.
I hope and pray mercy on you. On me. On all of us.
I pray more than anything we learn to extend it beyond what we believe is possible in 2016.
“I am convinced that the whole Church — which has much need to receive mercy, because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”
Is there anything more important, in this world of fear and confusion, than to hope for these words? So here are my five hopes for all of us in the Year of Jubilee (An unfulfilled celebration in the Old Testament that I find particularly beautiful and hopeful.) They are all hopes of mercy.
I hope for us the wisdom to listen and learn from those who are different.
Let’s learn the particular mercy of hearing others. We can give no greater gift, I’m convinced, than to see and hear another person. Would it be a beautiful mercy to go out of our way to hear those we may not normally listen to this year? Wouldn’t it mirror Jesus’ willingness to hear the people around him, really hear them, not assume he knew all about them? (Even though he did.)
I hope for us the patience to give second chances.
It’s the popular thing to give up on people as soon as they disappoint us. It’s easy to delete a friend. Easy to move on to the next honeymoon relationship, until the next crack appears. But what if we chose not to? Does it sound hopeful to think we could do the hard work of inviting the cracks, repairing them together, offering second, third, and fourth chances? We might need a few, too.
I hope for us the freedom of feeling forgiven.
The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. Psalm 103
Completely, absolutely, unwaveringly forgiven. By God. And by ourselves. Nothing offers more hope than to know you are forgiven. Nothing prepares us more for the next hope.
I hope for us the release of forgiving others.
Who needs your forgiveness? Offer it in this year of mercy. Be liberal in your offering of forgiveness. You are the one who will feel the free release of hope fill your lungs.
I hope for us the joy of offering mercy to anyone, anywhere.
The one who does not deserve it. The one who cannot hope for it. The one who doesn’t look like you. The one who looks disturbingly too much like you. The one who speaks another language. The one who lives and sleeps next to you. Everywhere. Without consideration of who is keeping score.
This — this is peace on earth. This is the only hope we have. This is the hope of Christmas.
As during December we focus on the “less is more” theme, a friend blogged about an incredibly important aspect of that idea. Do we believe less is more in church? Or are we fatally treating our churches like our shopping malls–the more we can get in one place, the happier we are?
Today I have a guest post from a friend, Stacey Philpot. It’s an important message as we talk about Christmas, consuming, and faith.
Yesterday, I was sitting comfortably on my favorite spot on the couch, during one of those rare moments when Avery is otherwise occupied and there is no competition for the T.V. I settled on one of the popular home-buying shows I’ve come to love but never have the time to watch. You know, the kind where they state their max budget and wish list and then end up with the home of their dreams within the hour.
And it struck me how this has become our approach to life in general. Here’s what I’m willing to invest and here’s what I’m expecting to get in return. I’ll spend x amount of hours with my children each week, doing homework, playing games and in general edification. In return, I’m expecting children who excel in everything, graduate at the top of their class, marry someone who takes them on nice vacations, and obtain well paying jobs which afford them a standard suburban American life.
I’ll spend 4-5 hours a week at the gym and 1-2 hours a week entering my meals into my app. As a result, I expect to be enviably fit, be healthy all of the days of my life, and to appear 10-20 years younger than I am at all times.
I am willing to drive 10-20 minutes to a church where I will spend 1-2 hours a week. I will place twenty bucks in the offering basket every other week. In return, I would like programs that make my children all-star Christians, people that become my best friends, a brand spanking new marriage (meaning, I expect to actually like my husband within six weeks or my money back), and free child care for my infant, on demand.
Have you noticed this consumer Christianity in your churches? What about in your own faith journey?
I’ve been to the mega churches where a mass spiritual meal is provided to everyone. As first, this really bothered me and I wondered, “What if you needed something different, something not on the prepackaged plate?” But then I thought maybe that’s what your Monday-Saturday walk with Christ is for. I’ve also been to the smaller churches where you could walk right up to the altar and join hands with your brother or sister and fight together for what you need. Some churches offer small groups or mid week bible studies for the more customized spiritual meals.
But I’ve also seen pastors who have 70-80 hour work weeks killing themselves trying to meet the demands of their consumers—I mean members. I’ve often wondered if over time, the members were becoming more dependent on Jesus or their pastor.
In my mind, the local church body is a place where I am served and I serve. It’s a place where I have community and where I share what I have with those who don’t. It’s a place where I do life with others, worship side by side with others, and experience the miraculous grace of God with others. It’s a place where I use my gifts, a place where I grow and where I train up others behind me. It’s a training center and a hospital.
It’s a place of beauty and laughter, living and loving. Imperfection and grace, power and anointing. But maybe not shopping?
So, I’m curious. What does church look like to you? Do you believe our modern churches are a reflection of Jesus? Are they effectively loving and revolutionizing the world for Christ? Are we playing the part we were created to play or still trying to decide if it’s worth the investment? How many amazing churches have we passed up because they didn’t have everything on our “wish list”? Is it possible that we’re missing the point? Are we consumer Christians?
Stacey blogs here at A Life Repaired. She is, as she says, “a wife, mom, step-mom, and proclaimer of the good news that no life is beyond repair.”
The sign above my car that read, “This street monitored for drug activity” should have been a tip off.
When I decided to visit Randyland on our short trip to Pittsburgh, I didn’t completely realize that it was located in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the country. (According to news reporters who analyze his sort of thing.) I realized it pretty quickly when I was driving through the streets, following my gps to what seemed farther and farther away from Kansas, Dorothy.
But Randyland. Yes, that is its name. Named for the artist who created it, Randyland is a house and yard devoted entirely to art. In a neighborhood determined to be dark, Randy is determined to shine light. In a place where all your senses, including common, tell you joy should not exist and darkness will win, joy screams out of this home and yard. It defies darkness. It wins.
I didn’t leave Randyland thinking about the dark scary parts of the neighborhood. I left overwhelmed with one man who wanted to share art with his neighbors and bring light. That’s the power of joy.
On the Friday Five linkup at Mrs. Disciple, we’re talking about joy.
We blame circumstances for stealing our joy, but more often than not, I believe we do it ourselves. It’s a self-sabotage game. An inside job.
I think Randy, whether he knows it or not, discovered a source of joy Christians should know well but don’t. He has found joy in lavish creativity. And we know where lavish creativity comes from, right?
So, here’s at least one way I’ve found to recapture joy – and five exercises to practice.
Find joy in our lavish creator
Do you know why coloring books for adults are THE hot items this year? In a society where every move we make is supposed to be scripted for upward mobility, coloring books are pointless. And that’s the point.
We are a people so obsessed with “getting to the next level” (where even is that??), we have forgotten how to do anything for no reason at all. Achievement has become out means of joy. It never delivers. When we look to our achievements for our joy (or worse, those of our children), joy is always, ever just out of reach. It’s waiting for us at the next level.
Wherever that is.
God tells us in Scripture about trees that clap their hands and rocks that cry out. He created camels and porcupines and duck-billed platypuses. (Platypi??) He made lantern fish and puffer fish. Why? To have fun. To enjoy creativity. To make us smile. There is absolutely no practical purpose for a platypus.
If God puts that much effort into creating merely for the enjoyment of it, shouldn’t we take a second look at joy from his point of view? Maybe we need to take more time to do pointless, creative, crazy things. Things that add not one jot to our impressive resumes. Things that reconnect us to the Lavish Creator of all.
Ditch the achievements. Try some creative joy. Especially now, when stress and getting everything “just right” for Christmas threaten our joy.
Here are five ideas:
Make some play dough.
I’ve lost my recipe, but here is one like it. The baby oil – yes! – the best part. It makes it smell amazing. Play with it. Just do it. Trust me.
Go get one of those paint-by-number sets you did as a kid.
Do it again. Don’t care how neat it is or what you will do with it afterward. It’s the process, not the product. Or some other inexpensive kit from the hobby store. You know – the ones where you stick the sand on the picture, or – oh! – get a glitter one! You will thank me.
My husband bought me a pole and put six bird feeders on it for my birthday. It stands right outside the window where I work. I love birds. It does not help my productivity one bit to watch red-bellied woodpeckers and nuthatches. In fact, I imagine it affects it negatively. But it is joy-filled.
Revisit an old hobby or find a new one.
I used to love to cross stitch. But then three kids came along, and ain’t nobody got time for that. I want to revisit it. I’m also learning how to quill and felt. Just the feeling of creativity flowing through me relaxes everything. I have no idea what I’ll do with all the projects. I could be using the time for more important things. No wait – I could not.
Plan a flower garden.
Maybe you can’t actually plant one in December. Or maybe some of you lucky readers can. I don’t want to hear from you. But now is the time the garden catalogs are arriving in my mailbox, and I can dream. A flower garden. Not vegetables. Not anything practical. Flowers, to be completely un-useful. They are pure creative joy.
Oh — free sixth idea.
Make a gingerbread house.
Do not care if the candies are put on in neat rows or the icing drips just so. Do. Not. Care. Just create.
We seem to have a lot of dark places around us lately. I’d rather be a Randy than sit in the darkness. In dark places, joy wins. Always.
Please share your ideas for joy-filled creativity.
Th hear the whole sermon I did on this topic, go here.
To see my Pinterest boards full of ideas for making pointless things, go here. (There is a lot of art here. I am a 4H mom.)
In a terrifying fascinating study recently, researchers asked people aged 18-77 to spend fifteen minutes alone. Completely alone. No cell phones, trivia crack, media, or sensory input of any kind. Over half the participants chose to give themselves electric shocks as a distraction, shocks they had previously said they would pay to avoid, rather than spend this period of time completely without outside input.
Fifteen minutes. I wish I had read this in the Onion, but I did not.
This is incomprehensible to an introvert like me.
The average teen spends as much time in front of a screen as he would at a full time job.
So by now perhaps you’re thinking what I’m about to say–December is an ideal time to release your family from this technological tyranny. This Christmas, how about a technology black out? Or at least, a grey out. Close enough.
Something so wrong but so right about this.
Don’t worry–no way I am going to tell you not to shop online. That’s just crazy talk. I could not survive Christmas without shopping online. It is the best invention ever in the history of history. This is a sanity-saver, so go ahead and take it. In moderation.
But maybe December is a month for taking an electronic break, if not a fast. During our 7 experiment this summer, we were supposed to eliminate seven forms of media from our lives for a month. I chose facebook, online puzzles and trivia games, non-work-related articles, pinterest, snapchat, and movies. While I missed those things, I found it restful. I found it peaceful. I found I got a lot more work done. And, I have carried some of those habits into the following months.
Christmastime is the ideal time to revisit slowing down electronically. Tweeting, buzzing, and whirring are not sounds you want to hear while roasting chestnuts by the open fire, anyway. It’s a time we want to talk about peace on earth, so why not talk about peace inside our own heads, peace from the incessant feeling that we need to be available, accessible, responding at all times to every input?
It’s a time we want to talk about peace on earth, so why not talk about peace inside our own heads?
Peace that we could use to connect more closely with our people and our God. That’s a peace on earth we all could use.
So what can we do to take back our digital lives during December? And, can these habits carry through? Here are some options if you, too, think this sounds appealing.
Create Some Limits
Did you know most Silicon Valley parents strictly limit their kids’ time on technology? That Steve Jobs was a low tech parent? They know better than anyone the talent tech has for sucking us in and draining us dry. They use safeguards. Why shouldn’t we?
Create some zones that are going to be tech free for the month of December. Mealtimes. An hour before bedtime. Homework time. An hour after school. The car. (Hey, we’ve had our best discussion in the car. This does not happen when Angry Birds and videos are playing in the backseat.) Whatever works for your family. Agree that the phones, tablets, etc go down for that time. On penalty of death by battery drain. Parents—this applies to you. Tech addiction is not confined to the young.
Declare a Fast
Determine some media that is going to be put down for the entire month. Trust me—you will feel freer. You will find time where you didn’t know it existed. Choose some of the ones I mentioned above or choose something that works better for yourself. Choose something that’s going to be felt. (Ex: I don’t watch TV, so giving that up would not have been a challenge.) Let family members choose what will make them the most free.
Make a competition out of it, if that’s the way you roll. Anyone caught cheating has to put a dollar in the jar. At the end of the month, donate the money or let the “winner” for the month choose a fun thing to spend it on.
Just don’t choose to eliminate Christmas movies. Because Charlie Brown Christmas.
Keep a list of things you can do instead of going on Facebook or Youtube. Snowball fight. Library trip. Reading. Volunteering. Have a real discussion, bake Christmas cookies, address cards. Have board games, puzzles, or art supplies set up in a central location. If there are choices that are ready to go, the mindless electronic siren call won’t be as alluring.
Make a New Habit
Create a go-to choice for those times you feel yourself moving toward that Facebook tab. Pray for the person you wanted to check on instead. Think of a kind act to do for someone. Text someone something encouraging. Do something to be the hands and feet of Jesus during his holiday season. (Don’t go eat a Christmas cookie. Bad new habit. Trust me on this one.)
When I married almost thirty years ago, I adopted most of my husband’s family’s Christmas traditions wholesale. My family didn’t really have any, so why not borrow? Hey, my parents had seven kids. Traditions? We called it good if there was just a little peace on earth and minimal bloodshed.
My husband’s family had traditions. Lots of them. I’m petty sure my husband’s family had a tradition for Ground Hog Day and National Cheese Doodle Day. So, they had Christmas covered. Cheese fondue Christmas Eve. Stay in pajamas Christmas Day. Stockings only before breakfast. Our first Christmas together, we drove the ten miles to his parents’ house in our pajamas to keep the tradition. And woke everyone there up, because they had said 8am, but apparently, they did not mean it.
But a new family needs to build new traditions as well, to forge their own identity. As our children marry and/or fly the nest, I expect they will do the same. A dance of combining old and new into “us.” So yes, we’ve made our own.
At Mrs. Disciple, we’re talking traditions for the #FridayFive. Rather than tackle five general traditions, I’m focusing on tree decorations. We have traditions on our tree, and it makes it our own.
First, the tree has a specific time.
That inviolable time is the day after Thanksgiving. We go, wind, rain, sleet, or snow, to cut down the perfect fir tree, which will inevitably be pronounced (by me) as the most beautiful tree yet. The smells of pine, spruce, twine, and hot chocolate mingle right into our car as we drive away. Th photos capture the same roles every year – my husband kneeling over with the saw (it’s not usually his best look), middle child swinging the twine over the car just so, youngest child hopping around with cold toes and making greenery into antlers, and oldest child checking to ensure the tree is balanced to perfection.
It will take my husband approximately ten and a half hours to hang the lights on it. Just so. Then, we decorate, taking some time to talk about the ornaments we choose to put on. We consider a perfectly ordered, themed, and color-coordinated tree an abomination. Our ornaments range from the one my husband made in first grade from a toilet paper tube to the Murano glass one we bought in Venice. They dangle next to one another, a reminder that our year, and our lives, combine differing measures of perfect beauty and last minute DIY improv. I don’t covet those perfect trees on the Pinterest boards. I want my tree of memories.
So for our five traditions, here are five kinds of ornaments we traditionally hang to keep our memories alive and give us our family identity.
The childhood ornaments
The ones my husband made, already mentioned. We don’t have any that I made. My parents did not keep such things. We do, however, have fragile glass balls from my childhood tree, their paint gilded and fading, but their beauty lies not in the paint.
We have the ones our girls made, the ones stuck together with glue and glitter and a little sheer hope and childlike faith. They are made of aluminum and popsicle sticks and fun foam and construction paper. There were also some made of dog biscuits, but those met an untimely end when we hung them too close to the dog. My favorites, of course, contain their tiny faces, peeping between evergreen needles, reminding me that those days fled by quicker than those needles will fall.
The travel ornaments
Wherever we have wandered, we have a memory on our tree for it. San Francisco’s painted ladies, Nova Scotia’s lighthouses, Europe’s landmarks, a light-bedazzled crab from North Carolina and a painted sand dollar from Puerto Rico. Every time someone pulls one out of a box, we are transported.
We remember the being together days that only vacations offer. We may start talking about the next one.
The watershed ornaments
Driver’s license. High school diploma. College. Baby’s First Christmas. All are celebrated on the tree. Which can tend to bleed into the next category . . .
The obsession ornaments
The resin girls doing perfect back flips through branches remind us of the gymnastics years. The scarecrow and Aslan ornaments and Glinda bubbles and Snow Whites bring back hours of theater efforts and applause. Belle and Ariel are telling which princesses were favorites around here once upon a time. And Snoopy at his typewriter is mine, no matter what. If someone has a zeal for something in this family, an ornament probably shows it.
The handmade ornaments
Several of the ones I made when we were first married and could barely afford a $17 tree let alone ornaments still hang. A bit bedraggled, perhaps, but they hang. They remind us of harder days and instruct us that those days are good ones if we embrace them. I can’t look at them without seeing again, like a reverse telescope, the hope-filled and beautiful first years of a new family and new dreams. Who knew what the years after would bring? Who expected what this tree is filled with?
We did not. But hope took us through those almost thirty years. Hope still does.
Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. (Romans 5.2-4)