I was my normal slack self this year when sending out Christmas cards. I had the cards (actually a huge collection leftover from past years…need some? Call me.), I bought the stamps (Need some? Call me!), but I probably only sent out 10 cards. I used to stress about my tendency to do that….Christmas cards were often my only way to keep in touch with certain friends. I’ve learned to roll my eyes at that concept and now I try to keep it all in perspective. I try to not to box myself into having to communicate with everyone at only this time of the year, but try to do better at making contact with those I care about throughout the year. I am not amazingly successful at this yet (and cards and letters….don’t seem to be getting written by me at any time of the year!), but still I am getting better at staying in contact or touching base with some of the people who are important to me a bit more often (thanks Facebook….you help a lot, as does having a car that can travel!) It’s my goal to improve these times of contact in my life, because I know a lot of incredible people who lift my spirits and make me live better….it is a great gift to myself. (So OK…maybe I am not always thinking of others!) Hopefully it is also something enjoyed by my friends (and family.) But I also acknowledge that people can come in and out of our life for certain periods of time, and timing and desire for a relationship must be right for you both. We have different kinds of relationships with lots of different people….and that’s OK. Some people are meant to be our close and constant friends (and we can only realistically have so many of these), while others for different reasons and seasons.
I’ve been thinking lately how my thoughts are changing similarly about Christmas. The day is not as important to me as it used to be. Don’t get me wrong….I still absolutely love it, find it really meaningful and think it is one of the most enchanting times of the year. But I also think perhaps celebrating Christ’s birth only one day a year is sort of like keeping your contact to people limited to Christmas cards. It’s just not enough for the place of honor He deserves. If we women get a birthday month (thanks to the proclamation of my dear friend Debbie Hartman), then Jesus should get a year of birthdays. (Sorry men. The rest of you just get a day. Don’t blame me….it’s just the way it is!)
So here is my proposal…..in these last days of 2012 and every day in 2013, we try to spend some time celebrating the birth of Jesus every day. No major blow out party required….in fact, I think He would prefer we keep a lot of the celebrations private. But we need to take a little special time every day to tell Him “I’m glad you were born.”
So how would we do that? Here are some things I am thinking. Some days we just need to have a conversation with our brother (Jesus…not my brothers Scott and Derek….not that it wouldn’t be great to have more conversations with them, too!) A few minutes where we really are truthful with Him about what we think, and what we feel, the purpose He has given us, how we’re doing fulfilling that purpose, and what’s really going on in our lives. You don’t have to use church-y words, or the language of King James….. let’s face it, if we did that with our other brothers they would think we were insane. Jesus would, too. OK, maybe He wouldn’t see us as insane….just a little….slow. He speaks modern day English….and wants to meet us where we are today. He wants us to be authentic with him…..and that is difficult to do when you are trying to play the stilted part of people of yore or pretend to be some spiritual soul He knows you are not.
As we talk, we also need to listen what He’s saying. One-sided conversations don’t make for a healthy relationship and certainly don’t celebrate the one to whom we are talking. So we need to both talk, and listen. It’s not a close relationship if you just sit back and listen and don’t share what you think….and it’s not a close relationship if you just talk without letting anyone else get a word in. There must be balance, sharing, giving and receiving.
We need to read and write letters. I love to get letters…..I am terrible at writing back! But this is another side to getting to know someone. His love note to us is the Bible….we should read what He has written as if it was written just for us (because it was) and we should reply. No better way to think and digest and learn and watch the wisdom of those words come to life. Let’s face it….some of it is confusing and confounding and we read it and we have questions. Other parts are insightful and life-changing and help remind us how to live. To write back makes us take a few minutes to reflect on what He tells us and continue to learn more about what He is really saying.
We need to give Jesus gifts. What do you give to the one who owns it all already and just shares it with you? If you look at everything that way, it can change your life. Your money…..if you think Jesus as the benevolent benefactor of all of your money, would you spend it differently? He tells us we should give hilariously. I love the idea of that. You know what it is like when you are with a friend and it begins as funny, and then moves to hilarious. You can’t stop laughing, you do things that don’t quite seem “normal” to others who may be watching, you celebrate life with abandon. That is how we should give. Not turning off our brain and giving carelessly or unwisely, but giving in ways other people may not consider. Noticing people….and needs…..and fulfilling them. Sharing
our His stuff. And sometimes not giving even though you feel pressured, because you don’t agree that is where He wants your His money to go. Hilarious feels good. It feels comfortable. You don’t quite hold on to your propriety….you lose control a bit, but freefall into a good place.
We give without caring about what we get back. We give when noone else knows it is going on (just a private moment between us and the gracious benefactor.) And we give from what we have…..we don’t steal or borrow from others or go into debt for it (but it is permissible, though not usually necessary, to give everything that is “ours” away!). If you are respecting the benefactor of that money, you learn to understand needs and wants, learn to live within your means, and realize that failure to be financially responsible is an affront to what He expects of you.
If money is the only gift you give, you’re missing out on a lot of other gift giving opportunities. For some, giving money is really easy, but giving time is really, really difficult. It may require we hang out with people that get on our nerves. It may require we give when we would rather be on our couch watching TV or only spending time in the company of our family or close friends. It’s invasive to our life. We can more easily tell when we make money our god (because that is what makes us pant with thirst and we never seem to have enough), but a bit harder when our god is our time. If we are giving our time, we are making a sacrifice. If it is too easy or if our time is not a currency, it’s not a gift.
We can also gift our strengths. We all have them. If you aren’t sure what yours are, ask your friends and family. If they have a difficult time coming up with some, find new friends. Keep the family, but recognize that maybe they have so much of their own stuff going on, and they aren’t really noticing or appreciating the special things about you. So….like I said before, find new friends and ask them. Or even better, think about it yourself. You are the one who can probably best see your strengths, if you actually look. Sometimes we won’t acknowledge the things that we do well….so we keep them hidden and don’t use them for any purpose. It’s misplaced humility. But when we acknowledge them, and look for ways to use them, we are celebrating a gift we have been given. To actively look for ways to share them with family, friends, and even strangers, we celebrate our gift of life even more.
And don’t forget about gifting your weaknesses. This is the one thing that God seems to want to use in my life more than anything else. (Possibly because I was blessed with extra.) It’s amazing the way my weaknesses have at time become strengths. There’s really no secret to why it ends up working so well. There’s that great verse (II Corinthians 12:9) where Paul relays a conversation with Jesus “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.‘” Paul’s conclusion? “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” When we put ourselves out there and do things that are hard for us, things that we ‘t don’t easily excel in, things hat don’t come naturally to us, it’s a chance for the very spirit of God to empower us. He likes to show His stuff that way. (So that’s why this introvert so often gets put into situations where she has to be a people person. Why sometimes why my extrovert friends are put in a position where they have to do things on their own. Why the quiet person needs to speak up and why the person with lots of opinions needs to sometimes keep them to themselves and just listen.) We can go from a place of scared to death, to feeling empowered just by being willing to put ourselves in those situations. As with our strengths, gifting our weaknesses requires we know what they are. Jesus works best in people who look inward and get to know themselves. It’s the first thing we have to do before we can call ourself a follower of Jesus. We have to see ourself as a sinner. Hard to acknowledge sometimes…we’d prefer to grade on a curve. But we must, or often we find ourselves in a dull and unrewarding life. A Christian who thinks, listens, and then acts, finds themself living a life of fulfillment and adventure.
Another gift is spending time with people who call Jesus friend. Sometimes you need to invite them to the party. Many of you probably know, this can sometimes be difficult for me. Some of His friends are lovely and fun and time with them is a great gift. But others…..well, frankly I don’t like them. It’s easy to dismiss these people and say “They don’t really know Him.” But as our friends have quirks and aren’t perfect (well, mine are amazingly close….but yeah, let’s be honest… you know you all have issues!), so do Jesus’. Even so He sees something in them and sometimes we need to find out how that is. Sometimes we need to love them, and accept them where they are, and trust that spending time with Him (and maybe with us!) will change them. When we hang in there long enough to see that change happen, it is one of the party favors He brings to the celebration for us.
And then there are those who aren’t friends with Jesus. Sometimes we need to introduce them. If we enjoy Him, and see that relationship to be the catalyst for everything in our life, the center of who we are, shouldn’t it be natural for others to know that? It’s tough in today’s world…. many people want to think of faith as a personal thing, which means they bristle when it comes up in conversation. But I don’t understand that…how can it be personal, if we are building real relationships? If we don’t share our core beliefs with someone, do they really know us? Are we really their friend? No need to get preachy (maybe someone will respond to that, but most of us hate it) or get on your precious Christian soapbox and make it all about you, but there’s also no need to be an undercover Christian. Sharing should be natural and easy and comfortable. But telling your story isn’t enough…you’ve got to be willing to let the other person share their life with you. You should listen when they share the center of their heart, and get to know where they are coming from. Jesus cares about all kinds of people….those who think the way He does and those who don’t have a clue. And He has given people free will to choose….who are we to try to take that away from them? Those who don’t accept or believe in Jesus are not a surprise to Him. He loves them and is gracious to them….and we should be, too. One of the most freeing things in my life was learning it is not my job to convict people of their sin or “save” them. The Spirit of God takes care of that quite nicely.
When we throw a big birthday party, we need to be a good host. We need to notice our guests and be concerned about their needs. We need to not be so wrapped up in “doing” that we forget “experiencing.” We should take the time to eat the cake, to drink the beverages, and to enjoy those that have come. You need to honor the guest of honor, and honor to the other guests that are with you. All will enjoy themselves more if you are taking time to join in the celebration. It’s OK to enjoy the party favors that have been provided by the guest of honor….the party is for Him, and it is His privilege. He is delighted when you like them. It’s especially fun that these little gifts have been placed all over your world, so you can be on a scavenger hunt that never ends. Every day you can discover something else He has hidden just for you.
As we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, we should celebrate the gift of His life….and at the same time the gift of our own life. To live a lackluster life is an act of ingratitude for the very gift we have been given. As Jesus was created to live a life of purpose, so were you. You are unique, you are special, you are needed on this earth. You are not meant to just take up space or keep busy with meaningless things. If you are feeling purposeless, if you are not feeling joyful regardless of your circumstances, if you are uninvolved with life, you’ve got to regroup. If you are overwhelmed or overextended or feeling alone, you’ve got to regroup. If you are living solely on your strengths and not doing hard things that scare you, you’ve got to regroup. Most of al, if you can’t describe your life as amazing and awe-inspiring, you’re doing it wrong. You were not created to feel like you are carrying weights around all of the time….you’ve got someone around who will take those out of your hands and off your shoulders and carry them for you. But you have to loosen your clutch on them. You need to be free from those burdens and ready to relax in the knowledge that you don’t have to handle them alone.
Jesus has already given His birthday gift to you…..and it is a gift of a lifetime. Don’t give it back to him unopened and unused. Don’t leave it on a shelf. While it is a precious and fragile gift, it’s intended for every day use. So use it…..and use it well!
Merry Christmas, my friends. You may not get your cards for a while, but I’m going with the notion that they can be sent out at any time! May the spirit of Emmanuel (“God is with us”) be with you all year long. And happy birthday, Jesus! I’m glad you were born. Thank you that even though it was your own party, you made it all about me and gave me the best gift. I love you and I am glad you are in my life.
Now….what should we do tomorrow to celebrate?