It’s inevitable. We feel it every year when we turn the calendar page to December and begin to pencil in all the things. And there are so many things. Holiday shopping, Christmas cards, classroom events, gift exchanges, school holiday songtaculars. And that doesn’t even include the parties – work parties, neighborhood parties, church parties, family get-togethers. It’s enough to make any sane person rock back and forth, clutching armfuls of scotch tape and snowflake-printed gift wrap, wide-eyed and frantically shouting, “No really, this IS the best time of year!”
But we all know this isn’t the way. We know this can’t possibly be the way we are meant to spend a most-sacred holiday, because there is no way the God whose message is peace and glad tidings could have intended us to run ourselves ragged going to every Target within a 30 mile radius just to score a toy our kids don’t really need anyway.
What I am realizing more and more each year is that the back-breaking schedules of most Decembers is not going away anytime soon. Every December I will stand in lines much too long and stay up much too late addressing Christmas cards that I’m pretty sure everyone will just throw away anyway. But I think the key to not allowing these holiday pressures get the best of me is finding ways to recalibrate my mind to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, rather than the frenzied pace culture has dictated should be the standard operating procedure beginning the day after Thanksgiving.
If recalibrating my mind is the key to not losing it during the Christmas season, then my favorite things to focus on are the characters of the Christmas story.
What was it like for Joseph to travel so far with an expectant wife and instead of finding a reasonable place where she could labor, to be forced into what I imagine was an uncomfortable stable with a less-than-pleasant smell. What did his provider-heart think of that whole situation?
Or sweet Mary, what was this whole thing like for her? She was such a young woman with a heart so strong and tender toward the mission God chose to give her. What was it like for her, gazing into the eyes of her sweet newborn Son, knowing He would save the world and wondering what that would mean for His future?
Or the shepherds? What was it like for them to be doing what they do every night, caring for their sheep, and then to suddenly see not just one heavenly being, but a multitude singing and praising the name of their God. What was it like to see that heavenly proclamation first-hand and how could they not fall on their faces in reverence and awe that the Promised One, the Messiah, was actually here?
I can only speculate what the people in the core of the Christmas story were actually feeling. What I know for certain, however, is that not one of them were focused on anything other than what was happening right in front of them – the arrival of the baby King, the Promised One, who would save His people from death forever. It is a sobering idea, this thought that God became flesh – the softest, sweetest newborn flesh – so that He could provide a way to be in a relationship with us for eternity. O come let us adore Him!
There exist levels of crazy that only manifest themselves during the holidays. But maybe this Christmas, even as you stand in the endless line at TJMaxx or scour the aisles at Target (or the pages of Amazon) searching for the perfect gift, or painstakingly assemble a crumbly gingerbread house for your family to kind of enjoy, maybe even then, when you feel the stress rising and your mind begin to spin on a hamster wheel of to-do’s, you can pause and remember the heart of the Christmas story. Remember an earthly Father guiding his little family to the unknown, an earthly mother who labored for the utmost good of us all. Remember the shepherds to whom God felt worthy of the very first announcement of Christ’s birth. And, most of all, remember the baby in the manger, the one who would grow up to bear scars for you, who would bridge the gap between your sin and the Father’s holiness. Remember Him and let it change your heart this holiday.