I’ve struggled with Christmas this year.  I’ve been in the best place with the Lord that I have ever been in my entire life.  For the first time, I’ve been surrendered to grace in a way I have never been before and am walking in step with the Holy Spirit in a way that I have never known I could.  Yet I have had a very hard time enjoying the Christmas season the way I have in years past.  I put up the tree, but when I gazed at it I didn’t feel it bring me satisfaction the way it has before.  My heart wasn’t into the Christmas shopping and overall I just felt that the Christmas season was an interruption of the awesome time that I was having with Jesus.  It was a very strange place to be and I struggled to come to grips with what was going on.

One of the hardest things for me growing up was coping with the excess of Christmas.  If I’m being honest, it was a depressing time of the year for me.  I barely had enough of the necessities of life and came home from school every day to a tree that sat with nothing under it.  Daily I would hear the kids in class ask each other and me what we were getting for Christmas and I would lie and say, “Probably clothes.  I’m not sure.”

Many years I would receive nothing or something very small from a family friend, return to school and feel compelled to make something up as everyone eagerly discussed everything they received.  All Christmas did for me was highlight our poverty.  When I grew up and was able to work and buy presents for those I loved it felt good to put that dismal chapter of my life behind me, but over the years the joy turned to anxiety and the happiness felt from appreciation of those receiving my gifts turned into pressure to measure up to expectation.

Shopping in years past has always been stressful for me. The struggle to find the perfect gift for people seemed to get worse each year.  What do you get people who are, in many cases, already so blessed?  Yet, isn’t that what you are supposed to do?  I wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out and they’re going to get me something.  It’s felt like a bondage that I’ve wanted to walk away from.  Yet, I’ve felt alone in my inner struggle and pushed through those feelings for a very long time, excusing it as me just wanting to avoid the work of the season.  But this year I didn’t even care to listen to Christmas music.  It rang hollow compared to the anointed worship music I’m listening to and more adequately proclaim the praise and glory of my Lord and King.  It was a very strange Christmas for me.

After Christmas was over this year, all I could feel is relief….and exhaustion.  There was paper to clean up and boxes to throw away.  Meals to cook and eat and I didn’t even want to think about where I was going to put all of the kids’ new stuff – half of which hasn’t even been touched. But once the worst of the messes was cleaned up, I realized that I was also feeling something else… sadness and dissatisfaction.  I knew my frustration about the commercialism of Christmas, but how did God feel about it?

As I sat reading A.W. Tozer’s The Warfare of the Spirit I came to Chapter 14 Christmas Reformation Long Overdue.  I find this article that he wrote particularly profound when you consider he passed away in 1963.  “Yet Christmas as it is celebrated today is badly in need of a radical reformation.   What was at first a spontaneous expression of an innocent pleasure has been carried to inordinate excess. How far have we come in the corruption of our tastes from the reverence of the simple shepherds, the chant of the angels and the beauty of the heavenly host!nChrist came to bring peace and we celebrate His coming by making peace impossible for six weeks of each year.  Not peace but tension, fatigue and irritation rule the Christmas season.  He came to free us of debt and many respond by going deep into debt each year to buy enervating luxuries for people who do not appreciate them.  He came to help the poor and we heap gifts upon those who do not need them.  The simple token given out of love has been displaced by expensive presents given because we have been caught in a squeeze and don’t know how to back out of it.  Not the beauty of the Lord is found in such a situation, but the ugliness and deformity of human sin.”

Wow, this is it.  This sums it up, this struggle I have been having.  What I’ve been feeling is the grief of the Holy Spirit.  There’s no way around it.  This isn’t what Jesus would have wanted us all doing with our resources in celebration of His birth.  Does he really think we all need more things or would he prefer that we, like St. Nicholas, be more concerned with helping the poor and needy?  I believe what Jesus would prefer is that we seek out those in need and actually serve them….actively seek to meet the need. What are we trying to buy? What holes are we trying to fill? I’m not judging anyone else; I’ve been caught up in it as much as the next person, but I believe God is calling us to change.

I found some interesting information posted from a while back on the Internet.  The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion, the National Retail Federation estimates.  What would it cost to solve world hunger? “A price has been set and estimated by the United Nations to solve this crisis-$30 billion a year ” (The Borgen Project). I’m stunned.  How is this even possible?  Jesus was very clear on how he felt about money and what he placed as top priority.

Luke 12:15 – Then he said to them, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in abundance of possessions.”

Luke 12:48 – From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Matthew 25:31-46 is strikingly clear as he talks of the final judgment.  He could not spell his thoughts out any more clearly.

There will be an accounting, a day of reckoning. As I think of all of the money spent and where my primary focus and attention has been in years past, all I can do is humbly come before my king and ask forgiveness.  Yes, I have given into ministries that have helped the poor and orphans.  I have sent shoe boxes full of gifts to other countries, but I feel the Lord is calling me to do more and calling me to honor the birth and sacrifice of my King in keeping with His heart’s desire for me as his loyal servant.

My Prayer

Lord, I repent for being led by the pressure of expectations and for getting caught up in all of the pageantry of Christmas.  I know you don’t begrudge us having fun, but to focus on commercialism and entertainment versus the true gift of grace your life and death gave me is missing the whole point.  Help me to break away from tradition and expectation and boldly seek your will and be led by your Holy Spirit to help my fellow man who suffers in the midst of pageantry and celebration of excess.  May my words be words of illumination and grace and not condemnation.  Thank you coming to the earth, so that we the spiritually blind and deaf might see and hear and know your perfect will.  Help us to be transformed into your image and to be a light in a dark world in desperate need of light.

Scriptures for Meditation:

Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV):
The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”