Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “God does not give us everything we want, but He does fulfill His promises, leading us along the best and straightest paths to Himself.” Two weeks ago, as I sat in my living room, syrupy seasonal coffee in one hand, Sheila Walsh’s new devotional, “The Gifts of Christmas,” in the other, a perfectly polished Christmas tree in my living room… I’m pretty sure I had everything I wanted.
As I relished every page of the Sheila’s new book, chock full of cute Christmas stories, interesting facts about holiday traditions, reflections on beautiful hymns, and life-changing biblical truth, like the fact that Jesus was more likely born in a cave, and not a manger, bringing new gravity to the adult Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20), I started to think about my own Christmas experiences growing up.
I thought about the Christmases I had a lot when my mom had just gotten remarried, or the Christmases I had very little when my broken family continued to break a part in front of my 7 year old eyes, and the Christmases I’d like to forget…where Christmas became very, very hard to find. For every Christmas we’ve had full of the people we love, the presents we cherish and the peace we desire, we’ve all had Christmas’ that were less than ideal… That year we lost a loved one, we moved to a new city, an important relationship fell apart, we realized our loved ones weren’t who we hoped they be, we found ourselves failing or falling in some significant way.
I think about the first Christmas, when Mary and Joseph were in dire straights, and walked the dangerous path of a 1st century emergency birth in a dirty cave, surrounded by wild animals. And we think 21st century healthcare is bad!? This biblical scene in the stable-like cave in Bethlehem, is certainly nothing like the Hallmark Christmases we try to curate today. And yet, this very first Christmas, with all its stress, uncertainty, and lack, was the most special Christmas of all time.
1 CORINTHIANS 1:27
”But God chose the foolish things of the
world, to confuse the wise; God chose the weak things of the world
to shame the strong.”
If the picture of Christ’s birth doesn’t prove this, I don’t know what does! Isn’t it great news, that God takes the least and lowly things of this world, to show His glory? Isn’t that great news for you and for me, and for all of the Christmases we’ve lived through or might live through that aren’t quite up to par with our Norman Rockwell-like expectations of the season?
I have so many personal Christmas stories to share, but let me choose one that is pertinent to our Crossroads family. It was around four years ago and my first Christmas serving at 100 Huntley Street. My husband, Jeff, and boys Jake and Ben, and I, were new to Burlington and found ourselves in a new hometown in the midst of a global pandemic. I am sure you know the one I am talking about! So there we were under social restrictions trying to create a social life for our boys, and hoping to find fun things to do for the Christmas season! Well, our social life was pretty much one big Zoom call but, we did manage to get outside to enjoy ourselves and strike up some festive fun… along with everyone else, I might add.
It was the year when everyone, and I mean everyone, decided to create socially distanced Christmas memories, by going to the great outdoors to chop down a Christmas tree! It was just one week before Christmas when we finally made it to a Christmas tree farm in Halton Hills, and as I stood there surveying my options, I quickly realized I had none! All of the trees were out of stock! There wasn’t a Spruce, a Balsam Fir, a Douglas Fir, or a Fraser Fir in stock. Zip. Nada. Zero. I went and spoke to the lot worker and they smiled at me with compassion,
“Well, if you can cut down one of the big ones, their all yours!”
I looked up at the 30 foot tall Spruce trees towering over me.
“Oh that’s ok, I’ll figure it out.”
I stood there in the cold snow, my face red from both the wind and the embarrassment. No room at the inn andno Christmas tree on the lot! I had postponed our Christmas tree outing because I had been so busy at work, in ministry, and at home! In the busyness of the Christmas season, I was so focused on sharing the message of Jesus on air at 100 Huntley Street, sending out Christmas cards, buying my boys the perfect Christmas gifts that, I had lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas; being present with the one who came to be present with us, Jesus, and being present with the people He gave me to be present with. I could feel the irony welling up inside of me and the tears on the brink of my eyes.
“What Christmas Journey Are You On, Lara?”
I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart, followed by this Bible verse, in
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”MATTHEW 6:21
Am I seeking the perfect Christmas or the gift of Jesus?
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”JAMES 1:17
“Jesus, Immanuel God with us,”MATTHEW 1:23
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,”ISAIAH 9:6
The snow was lightly falling as I turned to my husband Jeff and said,
“Christmas is what we make it…and we are making it about Jesus!
We are going home with a tree for our boys!”
We walked and walked, and I prayed and prayed, until our eyes spotted one contender; about ten feet tall, brown and withered on the top, and somewhat bent over. My husband and I sized up the situation, we love a good house reno, so why not reno this tree! We walked over and began to chop, carve, and corral. By the end of our tree reno, we had a five-foot tall, crooked, mishappen, half dead, Christmas tree, that would have been a good stand in for the sad tree in a “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Notice in my pictures… I don’t even show the entire tree in any shot!
There are 50,000 twinkling lights on the eighty-foot tall trees at Rockefeller Center in New York City. People travel from far and wide to witness them in all their glory. But what about the humble little misshapen, too short, too wide, sparse, and trees that end up decorating our houses at some point in time? What about the less-than perfect people who end up forgetting the true meaning of the Christmas season, even with all the best intent in their hearts? Not people like me, right? Not people like you.
Good thing the Savior we celebrate at Christmas time, knows humble beginnings and hurting hearts. From being born in the mire and muck of a cave, to meeting the needs of society’s neglected and forgotten, to being the Holy God incarnate crucified on a cross by his own creation, our Jesus knows that we offer him the crooked, mishappen, half-dead, parts of our lives, our motives, our attitudes, and our hearts and He responds to our feeble offerings, by transforming us into something beautiful. Not perfect. Not poised. But beautiful. A heavenly glow emanates from the redeemed part of our lives that is so powerful in could drown out a hundred Rockefeller Christmas trees! And Jesus does this for us not because we practice good deeds, or show good focus, or have good attitudes, but because He is good and faithful and kind, and when we put Him at the center of our hearts at Christmas, when we treasure Him a the greatest gift of all, we are gifted with His presence and that turns our lives into gifts that others can unwrap all year long. And you don’t need the prettiest tree on the farm or on street, or the perfect storybook Christmas, for that kind of gift.
So I ask you the question one last time, whether your Christmas is perfect or perfectly heartbreaking, “What Christmas Journey Are You On?” Is it full of Challenge? Difficulty? Loss? Joy? Festivities? Family? Friends? Don’t let anything, bad or good, drown out the true reason for season. Whatever circumstance you find yourself in this Christmas, I encourage you to find yourself in the one who knows you best, the one who knows your humble beginnings, your hurting heart, your heavenly victories and all the promises God has in store for you.