My kids anticipate December with glee. I approach it like a set of tasks to be tackled. With the Christmas season upon us, the notepad I keep on my desk has an ever-growing list scrawled on it. As soon as I cross something off, I’m adding several more things that need to be done. I feel the joy and wonder of the Advent season only after I’ve accomplished everything that “needs” to be done, which usually happens sometime around midnight on December 24.
My endless list making, shopping, decorating, and baking often cause me to miss the best part of the season: focusing on the significance of Jesus’ arrival on earth. This incessant busyness reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha:
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’
‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42, NIV)
Martha missed out on enjoying Jesus’ presence in her home because she was distracted making preparations for Him. When I imagine Him responding to Martha’s complaint about Mary, I picture Jesus speaking the words with love and tenderness. Rather than scolding her, I believe He wanted to change her perspective and show her what really matters.
Like Martha, we often make things more complicated than they need to be- especially when planning for Christmas. When our preparations make us worried and upset, it’s time to take a step back, get a new perspective and simplify. Sometimes we’re inspired to do something one season and when the next Christmas rolls around we feel obligated to do it again. Then, instead of being motivated by love, we’re trying to please people and cater to their expectations. Soon, the gift or activity or recipe that started as an inspiration becomes a tradition we feel required to keep forever more. I wonder how many of us maintain traditions that have lost their meaning, just because of our own expectations or the desire to please others.
Thinking about this reminds me of a lesson I learned after many years of trying to celebrate my son on his birthday. Starting when he was one year old, I would plan celebrations for him that included a large number of guests and activities. I put in a lot of effort orchestrating events that would be fun, food that would please a crowd and gifts that would delight him. Yet at each of his birthday parties, I noticed he was anxious and overwhelmed. He rarely seemed to be enjoying himself despite being surrounded by large numbers of friends and family members. Year after year, I tried to make special celebrations for him, but the outcome always seemed the same.
Finally, when he’d reached fifth grade, I was tired of planning elaborate parties and suggested he choose one friend to invite on a special outing. Rather than being disappointed about not having a big party, he seemed thrilled about spending time with a good friend at a place he enjoyed. The only thing that carried over from his previous celebrations was the type of cake he wanted me to bake. It was the easiest party I ever planned. It was also the most enjoyable one not only for my son, but for the rest of our family too. He still gets a dreamy look in his eyes and murmurs, “That was awesome” when we reminisce about it.
I wonder sometimes if it’s the same with Jesus. Does He watch us scurry around getting ready for His birthday and think, just stop and be with me! Does He look at our need to please others with the perfect gift and feel sad that we’re denying ourselves the time to enjoy His presence? Are we so busy making exterior preparations for Christmas that we are forgetting the interior preparation of our hearts?
I know from other seasons of busyness that when I spend time with Jesus first, everything else has a way of falling into place. Tasks that are important get completed and the rest just stop mattering so much. My prayer as we enter the Advent season is that we will make time for the “one thing that is needed.” When we focus on Emmanuel, God with us, we remember the true reason we celebrate this season.
Click on the link to hear Third Day’s song, “Christmas Like a Child.” I hope the lyrics will stir a deep joy in you, especially if you’ve lost your way and Christmas has become more of a chore than a celebration. Listen and remember that it’s all about Jesus. Let’s pray that everything we do this season will be motivated by our love for Him.