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Archive for December 5th, 2012

The Race to Christmas

If you are a mom, chances are that when December rolls around, it feels like you’ve been signed up for a marathon/obstacle course to complete before Christmas.  You barely digest the turkey you slaved over on Thanksgiving and suddenly you’re off to buy Christmas presents, decorate the house, get your cards and gifts in the mail, start the holiday baking…  The December calendar is filled up before you even start the race, and the overwhelming sense of obligation to fulfill everyone’s expectations can be a huge hurdle if you’re trying to run the race with joy.

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

Throw Off Unnecessary Obligation
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that if we are to run life’s race with perseverance, we’re going to need to throw off whatever is hindering us – particularly any sin that’s tripped us up. The main thing that hinders me during the holidays is feeling like I’m obligated to follow a set script of activities and menus whether I want to or not (i.e. baking particular recipes, putting up decorations that are a pain).  Traditions that were once enjoyed can suddenly feel like obligations if we’re under stress in another area of our lives, making the tradition feel like a burden when it’s added on top of everything else.

Sometimes, giving yourself permission to temporarily let something go is all it takes to turn an obligation back into a tradition you enjoy.  And sometimes, we need to just. Let. Go.  Repeat after me, moms: Just because you do something once or twice does NOT mean you have to do it every year for the rest of your life!  Not everything your family likes has to become a yearly tradition.  If obligation and unrealistic expectations are hindering you from running the race with joy, share how you feel with your family and find solutions together that will allow you to enjoy the traditions you choose to keep.

Fix Your Eyes On Jesus
When my eyes are fixed on myself, I’m more likely to get bogged down in my endless to-do list, but when I look up and invite Christ to be Lord of my list, he often rearranges my priorities and reminds me why I’m doing them in the first place – out of love for God and my family.  Sometimes, we can’t throw off something that’s hindering us, like financial strain, health problems, relationship struggles, parenting issues, job stress.  We can, however, choose to live unhindered by them if we fix our eyes on the One who exchanged the glories of Heaven for a lowly stable so that you and I could have a personal relationship with him.  It’s in this daily walk with our Lord who knows all about suffering and hardship that we find joy, hope, and strength to help us run with endurance.

Sometimes, however, it’s guilt that we need to throw off.  Like guilt over not being emotionally moved by hearing the Christmas story for the bazillionth time.  You know what?  It’s not the baby Jesus who “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” – it’s the grown man, Jesus.  If fixing your eyes on the miraculous birth of a baby is not meeting your spiritual need, then by all means, skip the Advent devotional and open one of the gospels – Matthew is my favorite – to read about the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, not just as a baby but as a man (John 1).

How do we fix our eyes on Jesus?  Just as we identify with Christ’s sufferings during the season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we can engage in spiritual disciplines during the season of Advent to prepare our hearts to receive our King who will return once again.  There are different kinds of spiritual disciplines; those of engagement that involve some sort of action on our part, and those of abstinence that involve refraining from something.

Here are a few ideas for spiritual disciplines to help us fix our eyes on Jesus as we run the race to Christmas and beyond.

Engagement:

  • Study – Get into God’s Word through a devotional book or daily scripture readings, perhaps in a different translation than the one you usually use.  This year, we’re engaging our kids in Advent by incorporating Jesse tree ornaments along with daily readings (in the New Living Translation instead of the familiar NIV) that tell God’s story from Genesis to Jesus.  (Check out this site for free printable ornaments that little ones can color while you or an older child read the accompanying scriptures.)  For adults who desire to fix their eyes on Jesus in a new and fresh way, I recommend reading Philip Yancey’s, “The Jesus I Never Knew.”
  • Creativity in Worship – Take a walk when the stars are out and discuss what it must have been like to see the sky filled with angels proclaiming Jesus’ birth.  While driving around to look at Christmas lights, discuss why Jesus came as the “light of the world” and pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you and make your light shine before others, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).  Pause to reflect on the meaning of traditional Christmas carols, then sing them intentionally to God.  Light candles in an Advent wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas.  (Or if you’re me, put battery operated candles in the wreath so your hair doesn’t catch on fire from the candles – again.)
  • Prayer – If you’re struggling to experience joy, focus your prayers on thanksgiving for God’s blessings.  Write down favorite scripture promises and blessings, and pray them over your family.  Some personal favorites are Rom. 15:13, Eph. 1:17-20, Isaiah 26:3, & Psalm 139.  As Christmas cards arrive in the mail, pray for the senders.  Invite children to pray, too.
  • Service – Look for opportunities to bless others through acts of kindness as a family.  Perhaps your family could deliver some cookies to an elderly neighbor or extend an offer of babysitting to a single mom so she can do some Christmas shopping.  We keep a bucket of hay next to a doll cradle and allow the kids to put in a handful of hay each time they perform an act of kindness, as their way of preparing for Jesus.  When we lay a baby doll in the soft bed of hay on Christmas morning, we talk about how our love for God and others shown through acts of service is our gift to the Christ child.

Abstinence:

  • Secrecy – Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.”  In Matthew 6:3-6, Jesus tells us to pray and give in secret.   When we give to others in Jesus’ name only, the glory goes to God and we are in turn blessed by God with “secret riches.”  Giving in secret can include gifts, but it can be as simple as quietly doing a chore for your spouse (and refraining from trumpeting your good deed if he/she fails to notice), shoveling the snow from your neighbor’s driveway, or leaving an anonymous note on your co-worker’s desk expressing your appreciation for their good work.
  • Frugality – We all know we need to set a budget and limit our spending to that which we can afford, but this discipline is about choosing to find satisfaction in spiritual riches rather than store up treasures on earth. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8).  If we don’t make a conscious effort to choose contentment, we are likely to be caught up in the tidal wave of consumerism (and its companion, financial stress).
  • Rest – Isaiah 30:15 gives this warning: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.”  If we’re exhausted and running on empty, our witness will suffer, as will those closest to us.  God knows this – which is why he ordained that we should take a day of rest each week.  But how many of us actually do this?  It’s hard to fathom resting during what is typically the busiest time of year, but how different would your Advent season be if you actually rested each Sunday?  Rest falls into the spiritual discipline category because it takes discipline and planning to accomplish it.  Try putting dinner in the crock pot on Saturday night so you can simply turn it on Sunday morning.  (My favorite crock pot Sunday dinner is Lazy Barbecue Chicken or Ribs with baked potatoes that cook in the oven on a timer.)  Plan to do restful, relaxing activities – but don’t spend the day pinning items on Pinterest or clipping ideas out of magazines if it will make you feel anxious about all you “should” be doing.  Meditate on God’s promises and his love for you; his quiet whisper, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

So how do we run the race with perseverance?  By responding to Jesus’ invitation:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matt. 11:28-30.  

When you just can run another step, rest in Jesus and fall in step with him.

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