“The season comes but once a year. A gift of precious wonder. For all who hold it dear. But past the sights. And colored lights. Lord, far beyond December. I will remember. ”
Bonnie Keen and Lowell Alexander
“And let us not be weary in well doing:” Galatians 6:9
Last week, a friend stopped by with her toddler to pick up a tray of cookies. We visited for a few minutes and then I shared with the little girl that we had three “mismas” trees. Friends, please understand that, despite my excess in Christmas decorations, only one of these trees is a main tree. Her eyes sparkled with delight as we went on a journey to explore the Christmas trees. Her eyes lit up as her tiny hand reached out and set the little bells on the silver tree tinkling. The metallic green tree in the corner sparkled under her touch. We also had fun looking at the Santa Claus in the bathtub on the big tree, bouncing the rubber ducky. Then she sat on her mother’s lap, devouring a cookie with pure joy, chocolate smeared on her face and her eyes dancing with delight.
They were only at my house for half an hour, but those thirty minutes were a breath of fresh air. They reminded me of what was really important for the season. They also brought back memories of Christmases past when I felt pushed, hurried, hassled and stressed by the season. These past Christmases were not my “Shiny Bright” moments, when I let the chaos rule me and, in turn, stressed out my husband. Yet, I’m so thankful for a wise husband who spoke truth into my life and challenged me to keep perspective.
My story is probably one that a lot of us share. As Christians, we are admonished regularly to keep Jesus at the center of the season. We are encouraged to not focus on the commercial aspect, but rather on showing appreciation and creating meaningful traditions with our family. I truly believe in these principles, yet, even in our attempts to do well, we can lose sight of the reason for the season.
I was a young mother trying to take advantage of all the amazing Christmas experiences my Wisconsin hometown had to offer. Every available moment was packed with experiences, visiting the Festival of Trees, reading the stack of Christmas books from the library, and sipping hot chocolate while decorating gingerbread houses. In the midst of all of this, I wanted to carry on the tradition of my mother-in-law by making tons of Christmas cookies and candy to share with family and friends.
One Sunday afternoon, while my kids were napping, I was exasperated and tired. Yet, I had the cookie list and was determined to bake at least one batch of cookies between Sunday services. My husband was napping on the couch while I was laboring over sugar and flour. I don’t know what exactly happened. I can imagine I made a lot of loud noise, slamming cupboard doors and pans on the table while huffing and puffing. I can imagine that I made some not so subtle remarks under my breath. At any rate, all the clatter woke my husband and words were exchanged. The last thing my husband said to me really made me take notice. “If all this baking is going to cause stress in our lives, then throw out this tradition. It’s not worth ruining our Christmas!”
That statement startled me and forced me to reevaluate my attitude. No tradition, no matter how good it may seem, should cause you to be stressed. Baking the cookies and giving trays away to friends was a good deed, but if it caused my spirit to be bitter and neglectful, my gift was the same as a lump of coal.
Ann Voskmap wrote in The Greatest Gift, “You are most prepared for Christmas when you are done trying to make your performance into the gift and instead revel in His presence as the Gift.” As a Christian, I need to spend time being in His presence, not neglecting my devotion time. I need to spend time worshiping God as the shepherds did when they saw the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. I need to offer my best gift to Jesus just as the wise men offered gold, frankincense and myrrh!
This year, I happily baked cookies as I have in the past. I had three days of baking in which I referred as my “cookie-palooza”. Despite being covered with flour and unwrapping lots of Hershey Kisses, I did the baking with joy. I spent time listening to some Christmas messages by various ministers and, like Mary, pondering in my heart the meaning of Jesus’ birth.
Christmas should be a time of creating memories, spending time with family, and keeping Jesus at the center. It has been my intention to keep this focus every year. I have failed at times, but when I feel like I am getting caught up in the chaos, I remember my husband’s admonishment. I then take a deep breath and try to keep everything calm.
This year, I spent time with the people I love the most, created memories, laughed and ate the cookies I labored over with love. Even as December slips away, I hope to keep my priorities straight and focus on what is important. I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas and are looking to forward to ringing in the New Year!