Monday, December 25, 2006

It's Christmas.

It's quiet in this house. I'm the only one awake and I love having the time to myself, to reflect. I look out on the streets of Madison and there's barely a car or a soul stirring. But I'm sure all over the city there are houses full of people, and especially children - that are missing it.

Oh, they're ripping open presents, sipping their "Christmas Blend" coffee, listening to carols on the CD player provide the background music to the pandemonium that's going on. There are parents releasing great sighs of relief that "it's" over. Those last-minute presents they didn't have time to get won't be gotten. No more pushing your way through crazed crowds with glazed-over eyes or circling the mall thirteen times trying to find a parking space. It's over. No more wrapping, running, spending, decorating, mailing, baking. It's over. But they missed it.

It's all so distracting, but we get sucked into it anyway. Even those of us that want to remember. We still unload boxes and boxes of decorations from the attic before the turkey carcass has had a chance to become soup. We shop for electrified fake trees (some of still go cut them down), we untangle yards and yards of hopelessly entangled lights, we risk our lives on ladders some of us shouldn't even be thinking about setting a foot on. We fill every nook and cranny with greenery, fake snow and every trinket that is somehow supposed to represent Christmas. We spend days doing this (well, moms do, anyway).

And we shop. And shop and shop. Money, budgets - bah humbug. C'mon, it's Christmas. We have to go hog wild and get people we love all the "stuff" they want. And how about the people we don't love? We get sucked into buying presents for someone because we know they will get one for us and we can't stand the guilt of not having something for them. Token, meaningless gifts.

How many of us even remember the gifts we recieve a month afterwards? We'll remember when the credit card bill arrives. We'll be reminded of it when we try to find homes for our new acquisitions amongst all the other "stuff" that already occupies places in our living rooms, closets, dens, etc. But soon it will all get absorbed into our material wealth like everything else and - we still will have missed Christmas.

I shut my eyes this quiet morning and remember a story, a beautiful story. A true story. There's a baby. There are loving parents - three of them. There is music. Angelic, joyful, awe-inspiring music. There is a gathering. People have come to see and to worship. There is family. There are gifts. Gifts that weren't purchased. Gifts that are given from the heart. This baby is a gift. This baby has brought us a relationship with His real Father. He's brought us freedom from being a slave to sin. He's brought us eternal life. He brought us a purpose for our lives.

Oh, yes, THIS is Christmas. Remembering that child. That gift. That love that God has for us.

Gifts aren't a bad thing. Music isn't bad. Family gatherings aren't bad. These can be beautiful when they are a reflection of our love and given freely with no strings attached. And when the motivation for them is a simple expression of giving of ourselves.

The decorations? I don't know. We have to stop and ask ourselves, "how is this helping me to focus on the baby, the story, the love? What am I doing all this for? WHO am I doing all this for?" If it's just causing a lot of stress, guilt, feelings of competition, exhaustion, etc., maybe we should re-think all we do... Do less, keep it more simple, more purpose-full.

I pray that today, we can get away from all that distracts us from what Christmas really is supposed to be about. I pray that we can find some quiet moments to thank God for this amazing gift He has given us. I pray that, in the true spirit of Christmas, we can look other-ward, rather than self-ward, that we can give from our hearts. Whether we give a gift, or time or service, or kind words, let us give it from our hearts. And that we can also receive, gratefully and with awe, this gift of life, freedom and eternity God has given us in His little Son. It is the only gift that really matters today - and EVERY day. I wonder where I would be without it. I pray that you will take time today to receive it, be thankful for it, recognize the Giver and enjoy it.

Merry CHRISTmas!

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