Have you ever felt like you wanted to move forward, but every time you take a step you run into a brick wall? So you take a step in another direction, and there is another brick wall. You are surrounded by mile high brick walls everywhere you turn. That’s the way I’ve felt lately. It’s frustrating and discouraging. Sometimes I feel hopeless.
Because of a car accident I was in a couple of years ago, I function at a much lower level than I used to. There are things that I want to do, but I just can’t. One of the few things I didn’t have to give up on was book club—truly one of the greatest blessings in my life. On Monday, we had our annual Christmas brunch. As has become a bit of a tradition, our leader read a story while we passed around a gift according to directions given in the story. The gift would be given to the person who was holding it when the story ended. This year, that person was me. Among other fun, unique and beautiful things was a fairly large box. When I opened it and pulled out the first tissue wrapped item, I quickly realized that the contents were letters spelling the word HOPE. They are designed to hold candles and could be used as a centerpiece on a table or buffet. But for me, the beauty of this gift was the much-needed reminder from God that I could have hope.
Only a few hours later, I came across Isaiah 41:10. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." These are words that God said to the Israelites, a people who weren’t sure if they could have hope. They had disappointed God with their rebellion and had been exiled because of it. How could they know that God had not given up on them? How could they be sure that God would not punish them further? The word God gave to reassure them also reassures us. If we are children of God, He is with us, He will strengthen and help us. He will uphold us because He is righteous. The whole reason for Christmas is that God sent Jesus to be God with us. Emmanuel. (Matthew 1:23) Through Jesus, God is keeping for us the same promise that He made to the Israelites in Isaiah 41:10. No matter what we are facing, we can turn to Him and find hope.
While I was growing up, my mother used to send out hundreds of Christmas cards, and she would get hundreds back. I enjoyed looking through them, not only because all of our friends and family made a point of saying hello and catching us up on news at this time of year, but because I liked all the different pictures and verses on the cards too. There was such a wide variety. Some were winter scenes, others warm cozy rooms by the fire. Some were silly and some were spiritual. Some said Happy Holidays and others said Season’s Greetings. And of course, some said Merry Christmas! I don’t ever remember being offended, or someone else being offended, by any of them.
Then I grew up and got a job. One of my first jobs included operating the switchboard in a high school. Representatives of the Board of Education were asked not to say Merry Christmas when answering the phone, but to say Happy Holidays instead. The reason—a lot of our students were Jewish. So in order to avoid offending members of either faith, we would not choose one over the other in our greeting when we answered the phone. We were never told that we were forbidden to ever say the word Christmas again. No one minded if we said it to the people who celebrate that holiday. We were only asked to be sensitive to those who didn’t.
Somehow though, saying Merry Christmas has become a fight—either not being allowed to say it or being forced to say it. I feel as though I will offend my Christian friends, or they will question the depth of my devotion, if I say Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings. These used to add a bit of variety and now they seem to indicate our religious status. It gets worse. Yesterday, on Facebook, one of my artist friends shared a post encouraging people to support their local artists this holiday season. I think that’s a very good idea any time of year, but one commenter left a tirade about denying Christmas. Then he left a second comment to say that he won’t support anyone who denies Christmas. Seriously? Anyone? Where do you buy your groceries or your gasoline or your clothes? The thing is that one should be able to use the words holiday season without someone assuming that they are denying Christmas. After all, there are a lot of holidays celebrated between November and January. And an artist should be able to sell her wares to anyone of any faith or no faith at all without her faith being called into question.
If you want people to know the reason for Christmas, try living your life in a way that shows Jesus. Be full of grace and mercy. And love. Read some of the accounts of Jesus in the Bible. He didn’t berate people into following Him. He gave them the opportunity to follow Him. Keep Christ in your heart and allow Him to shine out through you. I pray with the Apostle Paul “ that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Many of you have probably spent a fair amount of time getting ready for Christmas--shopping, baking, preparing large meals. Do you feel like the actual event is over far too soon? It is really only the second of the twelve days of Christmas, so I hope you are still enjoying time with family and friends.
Imagine that you live in a place where everyone not only likes you, but they have nothing but good to say to you or about you. Imagine that you have everything you need and much more besides. Imagine that all the problems you are facing now were gone. Jesus had things far better than we could imagine, and He left it all to come to Earth to face ridicule and persecution and torture. Why did He do that? For us. So that we could come into the presence of a holy God. So that we can enjoy the same privileges that Jesus has. That is the reason for Christmas.
This is my favourite carol. Merry Christmas everyone!
One of my favourite parts of the Christmas season is the music, and generally I can't get enough. So I'm going to share a little bit with you over the next few posts. For those of you who didn't get live Christmas music while you were out in the crowded malls, I hope you will enjoy this.