Monday, December 23, 2013

the work of Christmas

All month I've moaned and groaned about how busy Christmas makes me--all women, really.  The baking.  The cleaning.  The decorating.  The shopping and crafting and wrapping and card-addressing and checking lists and making lists and working so damn hard to make everyone happy.

And I realize it's my own fault for making Christmas work.  People get nostalgic this time of year for something long ago that we remember and want to recreate.  We hear a special song or see a coveted toy or maybe it's the piney smell of a fresh-cut tree.  Personally, I get verklempt at church around the candles and the sound of a choir.  Perhaps we need the perfect Christmas for ourselves to fill some empty place, a loss or a loneliness.  Maybe we're trying to do it for someone else--give our spouse or child or friend the perfect gift or experience this Christmas so they feel loved.  We think to ourselves if I just work a little harder, put in a bit more effort, then this will turn out perfect.  We all strive for the Norman Rockwell/Pottery Barn/Martha Stewart image of Christmas joy--maybe for one person it looks like matching sweaters on a ski hill, for another it's the whole family snuggled in to watch a holiday special on a big flat-screen TV with cups of cocoa and sugar cookies.

This message of Christmas perfection is repeated to us over and over in commercials and on Pinterest and even in movies as good-hearted as It's A Wonderful Life.  We think if we can get all the pieces to fit together, the bows and candy canes and Silent Night and twinkling lights, our Christmas will be complete enough to make us happy.  All we need is time, money and elbow grease to make it happen.  Work harder we whisper to ourselves.  Tie ribbons on those teacher gifts and buy everything the kids asked Santa for, bring homemade candy to the neighbors and wear something dazzling to the office party--it will be wonderful if we try hard and get it all done--then we can enjoy ourselves!

(And there's even more evidence of how we deceive ourselves into thinking our hard work at Christmas matters--the people lined up to return gifts the day after or heading out to shop or exchange for what they didn't get.)

Isn't that just like us humans?  Taking something so simple and making it into so much work.  Even worse, taking something so simple and believing the lie that it needs to be complicated.

Back up a couple thousand years and Christmas started in the most simple spot--a baby, a fulfilled promise to send a Messiah.  Nothing's more helpless or common than a newborn baby, right?  A baby for all the people, that's what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on the night He was born.  A Savior has been born to YOU...

God didn't outfit Mary and Joseph with a diaper genie and jogging stroller. No one was required to bring gifts or wash their hands or check in at the front desk when they visited that humble manger where Jesus lay in swaddling clothes.  Think about it--what a basic image!  A baby born in poor circumstances and surrounded by love.  All He needed was right there.  God provided everything that night. 

It's so simple, God tells us.  Just believe.  That's it!  We don't need to jump through hoops or stand in line or fill out forms or demonstrate some skill or talent.  We don't need to put forth our puny human busyness and effort and try to earn our happiness and contentment and peace.  If anything, the harder we try, the more frustrated we become because the peace and strength we need is beyond our grasp.  That's the lie we tell ourselves: that if we work harder, achieve one more goal, acquire one more thing, seal one more relationship, then we'll find real happiness.  But God doesn't care about our work, He's concerned with our hearts.  He tells us so clearly that His plan is different than what we think it needs to be.  He says, Believe.  Take my gift to you.  Here He is, Jesus, a baby born for all the people.  Believe I sent Him for you and we'll take care of the rest--your sin, your frustration, your longing, your loneliness, your discontent, your doubt, your insecurity, your restlessness, your anger, your shame--take Jesus and let Him work that crap out of your life for you.  

The work of Christmas started that night in Bethlehem, Jesus finished the work on the cross.  All God asks of us is to take the gift He offers, His one and only Son, believe in Him.  No work, just faith and through that faith, joy and celebration.

Writing this I realize how I bought the lie and let it distract me from Christmas's simplicity.  Jesus, what a perfect gift!  I don't need to work for my Christmas happiness, and neither do you!  Praise God!

I hope you have a really happy Christmas, reader, and let someone else handle the work.


  1. Wow, Mel. Stunning. As I sit here, exhausted from 2 days of cleaning, still wrapping presents, angry that I didn't bake or craft anything at all, you put the whole deal into perspective. This is as great as when you retold the story of the first Christmas a few years ago. Thank you for this gift, friend. Merry Christmas.

  2. Yesterday I heard a song on the radio about the inn keeper. It got me to thinking that probably that inn keeper never really knew what was happening in that stable. It got me thinking about how truly humble that birth was, how insignificant it was to the world around it, right at that moment, a very small handful of people knew, and even they may not have understood the significance.

    Beautiful post.

  3. Amen, and Hallelujah! Perfectly said.
    Just beautiful!
    Have a blessed and peaceful Christmas!

  4. I was sobbing yesterday because I felt so overworked and worn out--no time to make homemade rolls for Christmas dinner, presents to wrap, horrible, stressful, intrusive job that is sucking the life out of me, so thanks for putting things back into perspective. I wish you a beautiful Christmas.

  5. Perfect! Beautifully written! Merry Christmas.

  6. "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" has a chapter titled "Don't Create your own Emergency." So many of us do that at Christmas. It's time to settle into those traditions and routines that really matter.
    Have a wonderful Christmas, you and Mr. D. and the young Teammates.

  7. Yes, exactly. If the idea of Christmas perfection is largely self-imposed, I think we are certainly egged on by voices outside ourselves to work ourselves to the bone (and of course spend money!) trying to achieve it. The first Christmas was simplicity and vulnerability. Thank you so much for your insight. Have a blessed Christmas.
    - Carolyn

  8. I have had similar thoughts these last few weeks (that you are much better at writing out) and have not stressed one bit that we didn't bake any cookies. Or that we didn't have our annual Christmas party. We can celebrate the birth of our savior without cookies just as well. Merry Christmas!

  9. AMEN! Merry Christmas from the other side of Wisconsin.

  10. I have to admit a couple of things. We are Quakers, and although Quakers come from a Christian tradition, we also historically believe that no one day is more sacred than any other. Quakers are based on the primitive church, a few people together in fellowship and spirituality. Doesn't mean we don't have fun, though! I don't think my wife did anything to prepare for Christmas, and I did a few simple things, which is our usual habit. I am a retailer, and depend on sales to buy groceries, but we try to minimize our own stress and fuss this season. Basically, it is a beautiful and peaceful time together, and I hope everyone can experience that too :)

  11. I have spent the better part of the last week trying to figure out exactly who put me in charge of Christmas - then I realized, it was becoming a mom that did it.
    Thankfully, I had my better half to scrap the cake out of the oven which really put into perspective the fact that it definitely does not have to be perfect, it just is.

  12. It's over now and it happened so quickly. No time for prolonged joy. The new year is aupon us.

  13. "Perhaps we need the perfect Christmas for ourselves to fill some empty place, a loss or a loneliness. Maybe we're trying to do it for someone else--give our spouse or child or friend the perfect gift or experience this Christmas so they feel loved. We think to ourselves if I just work a little harder, put in a bit more effort, then this will turn out perfect."

    Seriously. I'm going to copy the link and send it to my book group.


Spill it, reader.