Join with the angels in praise & declare: “Glory to God in highest heaven, & peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)
I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my living room after bringing my firstborn home from the hospital. Family members were visiting from out of town, and a friend from work had stopped by to see the new arrival. At one point, though, I was in the room by myself with the baby, and I remember looking at him in my arms and thinking, “Now what?”
When you are preparing to have a baby, it can be information overload – childbirth classes, baby registries, pregnancy journals, and other women sharing their unsolicited labor horror stories. However, there’s not as much information about how to manage after the baby comes home and reality sets in.
Unfortunately, I think we often operate in that same mode when it comes to our faith journeys. This is the season when we focus on Jesus’ arrival, and people who haven’t attended church all year decide to show up out of the blue. We’ve put so much preparation into Christmas morning – decorating, gift buying, grocery shopping, travel arrangements, etc. Yet, what happens next week, or next month? What happens when family members leave to go back home, the decorations go back into boxes, and the New Year gets underway? In other words, “Now what?”
In Luke 2, we get a glimpse of the hustle & bustle surrounding Jesus’ arrival, and I’d like to point out one verse, in particular. It’s tucked in the middle of the shepherds’ story: “… Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” (Luke 2:19, NLT).
We have a choice to make. We can box up the Christmas décor and tuck away the baby Jesus figurine with the nativity set to wait for next year, or we can treasure the living Christ year-round. I encourage you to find ways to get plugged into a faith support structure. Your “Now what?” plan could mean attending a Life group, Bible study, or weekly lunch to stay connected with other believers. Or, maybe you need to start a Bible reading plan (there are gobs available free online) or begin a daily conversation with the Lord in prayer. However it works best for you, keep the Christmas miracle in your heart and think about it often.
My vocabulary has expanded since we moved to Utah, including yummy terms like “fry sauce,” which is a delicious blend of ketchup & mayo and found in every restaurant. My new word bank also includes less kind terms like “plyg,” which is slang for polygamist. It’s a subculture that is publicly looked down upon but seldom talked about until something horrible makes the news.
Plygs aren’t hard to spot. I suppose there are some who are permitted to dress like you may have seen on so-called reality TV, but the women I’ve seen dress like actresses in an Old West movie, complete with the ankle-length pioneer dress and a poufy bun or long, braided hair. The women always shop together; I have never seen a man with them. The boys tend to wear normal clothes, but the girls look like mini-me duplicates of the women.
Remember last year when a local Waco lawyer wore an orange prison jumpsuit during Lent, to draw attention to the struggles that former inmates face in finding jobs, etc.? That guy popped into my mind the other day when I was at the store and spotted another pioneer-looking woman. My heart broke for her, and I was torn because I felt helpless to reach out to her. What I wanted to do was hug her and tell her that she’s not alone; the One True God loves her so very much; and there are people who could help her. That seemed like a rash and totally inappropriate thing to do in a store that might get me arrested, so instead I just prayed for her.
As I moped around the store wondering what has become of our society, I couldn’t shake the images of the lawyer in his jumpsuit and the women I’d seen time and time again around town. Then, I began to think: Wow, what if my life was on such public display? What if everyone could read my sins as easily as they could check out my outfit? I’m not a fashionista on a good day, but how distasteful would *that* sin or *that* sin appear?
Like it or not, we all have a reckoning coming our way. Ecclesiastes 11:9 and Matthew 12:36, for starters, tell us that we will give an account to God for every slip of the tongue and every action we took during our lifetimes. Don’t fall for the lie that if you can keep it under wraps, then no one knows your sin. Some of us might be able to cover up many of our sins and lifestyle choices and perhaps even fool those around us, but one day sooner or later, they will be exposed before a holy and righteous God. Thanks be to Jesus who sees all of our faults yet still loves us so much that he came to earth on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let that wonderful truth soak into your heart this Christmas season.
I doubt many of you needed much coaxing to open Christmas presents last week. Why, then are we ever reluctant to accept God’s grace-gift?
Alas, we meet again. You know I still don’t like you, but we seem to be getting better at maintaining a tolerable coexistence. I hope you don’t take my disdain personally. I wrote you a letter last year about how I was going to change my mindset concerning you, and I think I did. In fact, when you visited last year, I was putting the finishing touches on my dissertation and preparing to defend it, so that was good. A lot of changes took place last year — so much so that I’m even greeting you from a different time zone this year!
Honestly, I don’t have anything particularly sassy, smart-alecky, or gripey to say to you this year. I suppose this must be what healing looks like. I still don’t look forward to the 23rd, which happens to fall on a Friday this year. I’ll have a class to teach that afternoon, so staying under the covers and pretending not to be a grownup isn’t a valid option. I still have to get the kids to school and then get to school, myself. It’s going to be hard, though. It always is.
Would you believe this is the first Christmas since I lost Nathan that I didn’t cry at all that day? I almost lost it on stage during the Christmas Eve service as we sang Silent Night, though. Normally, I can’t really see the congregation because of the lighting, but they dimmed the lights for the candlelight portion, and I looked over to where the boys were seated. I saw my five boys — thankfully, not setting the pew ablaze — and then my eyes lingered a bit longer on my two nephew-sons. In that moment, I saw a glimpse of Nathan’s facial features lit up in both of them; my eyes got watery and a lump rose in my throat, and I couldn’t sing a couple of lines. I was thinking about singing with him in Glory one day, seeing his face lit up with the Light that lacks shadows, and I felt such a pull on my heart to want to be with him.
Instead of dreading you this year like I have done in the past, I’m going to choose to be thankful for you. Seeing you again is a reminder that my time on earth isn’t yet complete. There’s still work to be finished here, and for reasons often unbeknownst to me, the Lord has designated a few particular things for my doing. So, January, I offer you a truce. Perhaps by the time you roll around again, we might even be friends.
I have a confession to make: There have been a couple of years in the not-so-distant past when I didn’t feel like decorating for the holidays. I didn’t really want to do anything for Thanksgiving, and I couldn’t bring myself to start thinking about Christmas. In fact, if I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have even bothered to put up a Christmas tree. It’s not that I dislike Christmas (although, the older I get, the more frustrated I feel about how ridiculously we’ve commercialized it), but I just didn’t feel like celebrating anything. Christmas break 2008 was the last time I saw my brother alive, and the holiday season always makes me feel melancholy.
One reason I like the book of Ecclesiastes is because it was written by the wisest man alive (King Solomon), which might make you assume that he had it all together, but apparently he had days just like the rest of us when he was at his wits’ end. In Ch. 3, verses 1-8, Solomon lists several opposites as a way of explaining the balancing act of life. Verse 4 (NIV), for example, says that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
Solomon went on to explain in verse 11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Those years when I didn’t feel like celebrating? There was a time and a reason for that. I still mourn, of course, but this year feels like a new beginning. Perhaps it’s the chill in the air and the prospect of snow on Christmas, but I’m eager to decorate this year. I’m actually looking forward to the holidays and the turning of the calendar.
God is at work, exchanging our ashes of mourning into lovely crowns (Isaiah 61) and making the darkest day beautiful again. We need only look around us to see his masterpiece.
I realize that we’ve had a love-hate relationship for the past few years, and I wanted to let you know that I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt in 2014. Truth be told, I’ve never really liked you, partly because when you come around, I start feeling guilty about all the stuff I had planned to do since the last time I saw you. Seeing your name is a reminder (as if the mirror and closet weren’t reminders enough) of the weight that I know I need to lose. Your name is a reminder of the hamster wheel that my career seems to be stuck in. The picturesque pages in each new calendar remind me of the places I want to visit, the things I want to do, the adventures I’d like to take.
But there is another big reason why I don’t like you. After making it through another Thanksgiving and another Christmas in this new normal (if such a state even exists), you show up in my life unbidden and remind me in no uncertain terms just how long it has been since my brother died. January 23. It’s as if Jan. 1-22 needn’t bother; I’d just as soon skip to the 24th and start the year there. The first twenty-two days only lead up to the day when I want to crawl under the covers and wake up 24 hours later, anyway, so let’s just fast-forward and pretend the day never happened. And yet, every year like clockwork, it rolls around. And every year, I wake up and go through the motions of another day. This will be year five.
You know what, January? I’m tired of dreading you. I’m tired of letting you dictate how I feel about myself and my circumstances. I have some important things to do while you are around this year, and I’m not going to let grief or guilt stop me from accomplishing them. So, feel free to stick around for 31 days again this year. Just don’t expect me to slow down and wait for you to leave.