Earlier this summer, our family made a pilgrimage to the ultimate summer vacation destination, Disneyland. As we navigated the crowds, I noticed a common trait among our fellow mouse-eared tourists. With the exception of a few overstimulated toddlers and stressed-out parents, everyone around us was smiling and laughing. The strangers...
Christmas is nearly here and we feel it—the humming of our homes with a last-minute hunt for a recipe; with the readying of each room for guests; with the setting aside of materials for a Christmas Day craft; with the selection of books to read whose covers shine, silver and gold, for the season; with the listening to robust songs that convey this message so dear to us; with the well-laid packing, if traveling, by sliding into a suitcase all of the outfits in which all of the smiles will be captured this year; with the tying together of gifts and paper and bows; with the planning of travel activities for little heads and hearts that otherwise weary quickly; with the close conversations with family members and friends in the kitchen late at night; and with the warmest wishes being sent to family and friends far away.
In the Pressure
It’s all felt, because an intentionality of thought is needed. We can feel joyfulness in the preparations, and expectancy in the attitudes around us. Christmas lights are in view, and we know that we have all needed the Light to come.
We perhaps also feel the weight of the season—there can be self-imposed pressures, and arduous expectations. Sometimes we plan too much, and we need to let some of it fall. Yet, God sees what we’re doing—the planning, the thoughtfulness, and the anticipation we have been building into those around us, and into our own souls.
Perhaps our preparations aren’t planned or they aren’t as we desire—because Christmas came quickly this year or circumstances prevented them. But we can still prepare inwardly today.
In the Dullness
Our God knows when we carry a spiritual dullness into Christmas that needs to be illuminated.
Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil;
wail, O vinedressers,
for the wheat and the barley,
because the harvest of the field has perished.
The vine dries up;
the fig tree languishes.
Pomegranate, palm, and apple,
all the trees of the field are dried up,
and gladness dries up
from the children of man. (Joel 1:11-12)
If the season’s preparations and expectations have depleted you, or if the year was fast and hard and you’re still stretching your capacities to try to understand it all, return to the Lord as a parched child. Return to the Lord, mourn for your dullness, and bring yourself to him for gladness in your soul. Mourn to him. Identify sin with him. Lament circumstances before him. Repent and turn your heart to him. Find comfort in his character.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12-13)
And to those he loves, who love him, Christ is a refuge; the King who was given only meager refuge as a baby is now the true refuge for men. He was born for us, and in all of his light, overcame.
The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel. (Joel 3:16)
Israel, in the future, will believe in the King, and find him the ultimate refuge and shelter. Yet, “salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:11), while preparations for the King weren’t what they “should” have been, had all known and loved him as he deserved.
No Christmas Preparations Are Enough—But They Matter
But we haven’t prepared for Jesus as he deserves either, even with our best efforts—our dullness is evidence of it and our feelings of pressure testify to it; nothing we do is enough to commemorate the incarnation and what it means. But he knows that, and came to a flawed people.
He chose to come amidst this kind of history: the sin of the garden and the ways it increased; the history of Israel, and the ways they veered away; and the surrounding nations who birthed much evil. He came to the nation of Israel, who did not recognize the One who came for them. Then salvation graciously came to the Gentiles—the “wild olive tree” (Romans 11:23).
Considering his kindness, in this context, yields true worship within. What can I do but praise him with all of my preparations and anticipation, though they are insufficient? What can I do but seek to be a person who rends my heart and not my garments before him? What can I do but carry myself to him and join with those I love in treasuring, remembering, and honoring him in our celebrations?