The onslaught of messages on just what would make the perfect
Christmas present come long before November.
Christmas catalogs, mailers, newspaper inserts heralding sales on the perfect Christmas gift, pile up in the mailbox and on the table.
Texts are sent to grandchildren inquiring just which gift would be perfect for them.
Shopping commences at malls, in local shops, and online.
This is Christmas present.
It all seems so complicated -
the way we do Christmas present.
A modern and technologically savvy grandma with “old school” habits,
I write post it notes and stick them to my phone as I scurry about
trying to find the perfect Christmas present.
I check the lists and where to find the gifts.
“What size will fit each now nearly grown grandchild,” I ask myself,
“and will I find something in budget in that size.”
The gifts are all simple really, but Grandma wants all the grandchildren to have a
Christmas gift from her to open.
Shopping, shopping, shopping, I scurry about before I head home.
I check the budget.
I check the checking account.
I run out of checks, still have a bit of money, but can’t find more checks.
“Good thing I’m buying gifts and not sending checks,” I think.
I note the last check is numbered 1225
Wrapping is done in paper from remnants that remain from years gone by because I forgot to put new paper on the list of things I need.
I find a nearly empty roll of tape.
I have no ribbon and the bows that remain are smashed and ruined.
Christmas Present is wrapped in leftovers from Christmas Past.
Boxes are found, filled, and shipped.
Hoping to create the perfect Christmas Present,
I arduously haul up boxes of decorations with which to decorate the house.
I both delight in and cry over the memories that escape those boxes holding memories from so many Christmas Pasts.
“Will the children, none living near me, even make it home for Christmas?” I wonder, “And if they don’t, just why am I going to all this work?”
My heart is touched by memories as I hang each ornament, but honestly,
I am mostly doing all of this decorating for
as if I’m doing
a routine duty,
There is no true Christmas spirit being conjured up within my heart or mind.
Christmas Present is filled with messages:
This year be present for Christmas.
Be the present to someone else this Christmas.
Your presence is the present.
It no longer is Christmas Past, I tell myself as I the Ghost of Grandmother French reminds me of all the candy, cookies, pies, and fruit cakes she made to prepare for a Merry Christmas where all the family gathered in her home.
It is not 1950.
It is 2016.
Christmas Present is complex.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent,
One week before Christmas,
I search for something festive that fits to wear to church.
Festive clothing hanging in the closet screams of Christmas Past when I could fit into those clothes.
Finally, I conjure up some sort of outfit that will be suitable for the tradition that I carry in my head. The tradition dictates that I must clothe myself in festive, dressy attire to attend church.
Most folks never wear dressy clothes to church these days,
but I am stuck in Christmas Past.
After all, if I dress the part, won’t I feel like I have the Christmas spirit?
I walk into church feeling like I am in costume,
masquerading as one whose heart is ready for the final week of Advent.
The music leader tells us that yellow strips of paper on in the bulletin. We are to take them and write on them all that is keeping us from worshiping Jesus this year. What is filling our hearts and minds instead of the One we came to worship? What is robbing us of our joy? I turn and look at my husband. He mouths the words I don’t want to hear. He knows what it is that I am focused on.
How do I write those words on that strip of paper? They would reveal just who I am and what thoughts rob me of my joy and keep me from Jesus. Will anyone read these? I worry that someone might. I print the words. I don’t want the pastors to recognize my handwriting. Will I be known as the woman masquerading around dressed in Christmas cheer when she really feels no good cheer at all? Will my lack of faith in believing that God is able to answer the prayers that I keep as constant requests on my heart be exposed?
I write down those robbers of joy and peace and hope anyway. I write down what is keeping me from worshiping the one I came to worship. I write down what keeps me from Jesus on His birthday.
We are reminded that all that keeps us from God, from worshiping His Son, His Gift to us, is just straw. Straw. I write down my confession on that yellow strip of paper and carry it to the front of the church and drop it in a simple, rough-hewn wooden manger. Other strips of paper filled with other confessions are also strewn in that manger. The replica of the place where Baby Jesus would be placed has become a straw filled receptacle containing not the Christ child, the baby Jesus, but instead it holds the confessions of a people who need a Savior, One to save them from all the things of this world that bring no joy, no peace, no hope. This manger at the front of church is a crib filled with pain and sorrow and envy and pride and materialism and striving that will burn like straw. It is filled with worthless things.
It is such a bed as this that would hold the One who came to save us from our sins, the One who came to save us from the idols we worship instead of Him.
The manger contains straw.
It is the Season of Advent.
I have not yet received the joy of His coming this season because I am trying to recreate the rituals, the traditions, of the season. I am stuck in the trappings of Christmas. I am seeing and reading the messages of the world about the season.
I have not focused on The Word made flesh who came to dwell among us.
Immanuel – which means God with us – has come,
yet I live as if He has not yet arrived.
Christmas Present is not about me being present at all, it is about
Christ being present in me.
There is no supernatural filling by some Spirit of Christmas Present that fills me with the Christmas Spirit.
I know this.
I need to remember this.
Christmas, like every other time of the year, is about walking in the truth that I am filled with
and His Spirit.
There is no joy in my heart because my eyes have not been on Jesus;
my eyes were on the trappings of the season.
There was not peace in my soul because I was worried about the
problems of this world,
of my world,
of the world of those I love,
rather than in trusting in the One whom came to bring us
healing, and hope, and peace.
“Wars and rumors of wars,”
The children of Allepo,
Wars and rumors of wars
Fill the news.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the pastor reads from Jeremiah 23,
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! declares the LORD.
Jeremiah tells the people that the LORD has declared that He will attend to the evil deeds of the shepherds that have not cared for the flock. Evil leaders will answer to God. A good shepherd will come to care for the flock and to bring them back to the fold.
Earlier that day, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, burdened down with fears for the future, and for my loved ones, I had turned to Hebrews 1 before I prayed for those worries and concerns that were robbing me from fully trusting in the One able to take those worries and concerns and carry them for me.
As I heard the words of Jeremiah, I was reminded of the first verses in Hebrews.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, through whom also he created the world.
The promise of those prophets for a good shepherd was fulfilled.
Jesus, my good shepherd, has come.
He knows me.
He sees me.
He knows what is in my heart, and what is written on that yellow slip of paper.
He doesn’t ask me to clean myself up so I can come into his presence.
Instead, He cleanses me so I am purged of all the sin that separates me from Him.
He doesn’t tell me to follow in His footsteps so I can prove myself worthy.
No, He shows me I will never prove myself worthy of Him, and so by His grace He robes me in His righteousness so I am worthy before the throne of God.
The child born with the government upon his shoulder,
The child named
Prince of Peace,
came to save His people from their sins and the sins of this world.
I am no longer wearing those ill-fitting, inappropriate, filthy rags that I thought would cover up what I didn’t want the world to see. I have taken my eyes off the Creator of the Universe and focused on looking at the world. I have put my energy into my own efforts to brings a measure of joy to others. I have sought to put on the trappings of the season and make sure all rituals and traditions are followed. I had not had time to focus on the One we celebrate.
As I move forward into Christmas Present and towards Christmas Future, my prayer is that I will remember the words of this hymn, O Holy Night.
Truly He taught us to love one another.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression is ceased.
The pastor tells us as believers in Christ we are robed in the Righteousness of Christ, which is referenced in Jeremiah.
And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
He robed us in that righteousness not just to someday stand before His throne worthy but to also do His work in this world with compassion, justice, and mercy.
In 2016, I know of no other way to have hope for the future than for me to continue to trust in the One who came to put an end to the hopelessness, injustice, and lack of joy and peace we find in this world.
I am here to fulfill is my purpose He has given me
to know Him and make Him known.
Everything else is just straw.
Christ present in me.
I am filled with His presence.
* Thank you to my pastor Mark Bates for his sermon which spoke to me so powerfully this Sunday and inspired this post.