Christmas 2016 was looking like one of those years. I’ve had them more times than I care to remember, and I really thought I was beyond them. Beyond the stress of insufficient time to accomplish the mile-long task list in the run-up to Christmas Day. Beyond last-minute shopping in picked-over stores. Beyond eleventh-hour dithering about what to feed our family when they all gathered to celebrate Christmas in our home. Beyond late night gift wrapping sessions that left me with aching shoulders and promises to myself that next year would be different. Next year, I would have preparations finished before Thanksgiving so I could relax and enjoy a meaningful, unhurried Christmas season.
But I was wrong. I wasn’t beyond any of that, and the circumstances were completely out of my control. It was November 29, 2016, not one preparation had been made, and all our adult kids and grandkids would be in our home on December 3rd to celebrate Christmas, exchange gifts with each other, and enjoy just being together (a rare treat since one has been living in south Florida). I was so far behind, there wasn’t anything I could do to get everything done and have a relaxed, peaceful, Christ-focused Christmas season. After all, there was the tree to put up and decorate, the wreath for the front door, and little Christmasy touches to arrange in the rest of the house. Meals and snacks to plan, and gifts to purchase and wrap. Oh, and did I mention that we moved two months ago? And downsized? And still have half our belongings in boxes in the garage? And had to find sheets and blankets for guest beds? And one bedroom still needed a bed frame and bedding in a size I didn’t have? And the house hadn’t been cleaned in a month because we were focused on unpacking from our own move and helping our daughter and son-in-law move from Miami to the Midwest on a three week notice? And all this with the constant pain of an ankle that needs yet another surgery.
There’s more, but I’ll spare you the details. You get the picture. This was shaping up to be the least prepared, most stressful Christmas in thirty-five years of marriage. It was overwhelming, and I was near melt-down. Slipping through my fingers was the time I craved to sit at the feet of my Lord and marvel at His coming. To savor the wonder of God Himself, wrapped in human form, humbly housed in a stable, helpless and poor, coming to earth to become one of us. And all because He loves us. What an incredible God we have, and we have the whole month of December set aside to ponder His inconceivable gift of love, His Son, Jesus Christ.
Unless, of course, your world has been turned topsy-turvy and you’re a disorganized mess. Once again, I was going to miss Christmas. Oh, not the actual day, but the season of quiet, honed-in reflection that wakens hearts to the reason for the celebration. With all the preparations to be made, there wouldn’t be enough time for that. Christmas would come and go in the midst of frenetic activity and leave me feeling empty. Christmas was getting squeezed. Again. Something had to give, but what? What could I delete from my to-do list in order to make room for time with Christ this Christmas season? Not gifts for family. Maybe a tree? Decorations? Special baked treats? What would Christmas be without those? If I had to choose only one thing to have at Christmas what would it be? The answer seemed easy, Jesus, of course! But I had never thought about actually celebrating Christmas without anything but Jesus. Could I do it? Could I truly enjoy a Christmas without a tree and decorations, food and festivities? It seemed so forlorn, but then again, peaceful. Lacking, but full. Different, but right. When the thought first came, I felt a little sorry for myself. What a sad, bleak Christmas that would be. But what is the lack of a tree and shiny ornaments compared to the gift of a Savior and time to spend with Him? Would I really rather have the trappings of the celebration than the Christ we celebrate? Could I joyfully choose to spend my widow’s mite of discretionary time all on my Lord? Is there anything or anyone more worthy? My mind turned the corner. An unadorned Christmas might be a really good opportunity to put into practice what I say I believe, that Christmas is nothing without Jesus. That we need to choose carefully what we allow in our Christmas celebration, lest we find ourselves swept along in the torrent of Christ-less festivities that threatens to drown out the true meaning of Christmas. That Christ alone is enough in any circumstance, including a Christmas devoid of decorations and culinary delights. The mere possibility of a season of quiet contemplation flooded in like warm sunshine, bringing immediate relief. Yes, I was willing to forego decorations for fellowship with my Savior. If I had to choose, I would choose Jesus. And peace.
And it was a good weekend. There were no decorations, no special foods. We ate sandwiches for lunch and ordered pizza for dinner. The kids exchanged gifts and played with the little ones and enjoyed each other. Armed with coats, gloves, and umbrellas, we braved a light rain to watch the Civil War reenactment on the battlefield across the road from our home. We warmed up with hot chocolate, coffee, and laughter. And not once during the weekend did I notice the lack of Christmas décor. What I did notice was the lack of stress. Instead of empty, I was content.
Have I given up all hope of a decorated home and a warm batch of molasses cookies this year? Not on your life. But if homemade cookies and a bedecked tree happen, it will be because the Lord made provision, not because I prioritized a pretty home over a season of worshiping Him. I will seek first the kingdom of God, and let Him decorate the season as He sees fit. After all, the most beautiful adornments of Christmas are hearts contented with the peace, joy, and love of our Savior.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.(Matthew 6:33)