For the last three years, I have spent the Christmas season preparing to move. The Christmas season before that I spend working retail. In essence, this is the first Christmas I have been able to feel the advent – the waiting- of the season. This is the first Christmas that has not been full of working and moving in the physical sense. However, it feels as if all of that effort has not been lost this year; rather, it has been found in the working and moving within my own self.
What I have found is that it can be encouraging to be engaged on Christmas- being connected, present and part of Christmas. And we are each a part of Christmas because celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas is for his glory but also for our good to pause and recognize the meaning of His life and, therefore, the meaning of our own life. Even those who do not yet believe are part of the Christmas story – because Jesus came for the lost.
Over the last year, I have noticed a significant shift, for many reasons, of course. This shift has brought with it the practice of being open without necessarily being intimate – I can share who I am without sharing all that I am and still be genuine. This is important to me – to be genuine. I want others to know that what I say and do is significant. But this does not mean I need to share all of myself with all people; this is both exhausting and dangerous.
I have also noticed that there seems to be a hide-and-seek tendency with the community I have with others. There are seasons of close-knit relationship followed by a gap (sometimes a chasm) of disconnect.
I have seen this throughout my life – I believe it may be a rhythm of life or at least my life – but I have felt it more in the last few years. I have lived in one city but four different places. I have worked for one company but two different jobs. I have been a part of two churches with three different groups of friends.
I can also look back and see a different kind of disconnect – times when I feel lost in what my life is for. Times I am unsure of my purpose. Times when I resist or even withdraw or try and escape my purpose.
In Matthew 11, Jesus was the one to give assurance to John the Baptist that his life had purpose. After John was imprisoned, Jesus was the one to steady John’s concerns when John asked, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
Basically, what I take from this question is, “Was all of the preparation that I spent my life on worth it?”
John the Baptist was perhaps what we would consider to be an odd man living in the wilderness wearing funny clothes, eating funny food and saying funny things. But we only see his question at the end – was it worth it? He wanted to know if his life had purpose and meaning – that his actions, strange though they may have been, led people to the Christ, that his engagement with others was significant.
I find myself asking that question in the midst of life without even realizing.
When I am overwhelmed with the concern that the work I do holds no eternal value, I begin to make efforts to feel connected without actually engaging.
I fill my time and mind and self full with things that distract rather than engage. The difference over the years is that I now recognize this habit, but I have not stopped the behavior.
Out of fear, my instinct is usually flight. Rarely is it a fight. This has looked like many different things, but one thing is always the same – fear.
This is important. To recognize the motivation for the behavior – to use some of that open time to track down the root instead of walking further out on the limb that continues to become unsteady.
We see a glimpse of Jesus’ explanation of John’s life in Matthew 11:7-9:
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet.
I want to be regarded like John the Baptist. Can I expect Jesus to answer these questions the same if they were asked of me? “Was [I] a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind?”
I think the significance of being engaged on Christmas becomes even more important the day after Christmas. When the music stops, the lights fade, the decorations removed, and our attentions are turned towards the sales and leftovers. The monotony of life returns and we easily become lost to the routines we placed on hold for a season.
How do you leave a full season of engagement – connection and attention – and walk into the next New Year? How do you not leave Christmas behind?
Recognize that you are a part of Christmas – that Christmas is not a time or place, but a story. And we are each a part of that story.