Banish the Rush! Eliminate hurry! But there’s places to go, people to see, things to do! The Christmas season is in full swing–time to gear up, get your running shoes on, and face the crowds. Rush, rush, rush…house to decorate, cards to send, cookies to bake, gifts to wrap, parties to attend…wait a minute…too much on top of all other responsibilities! What a frenzy this holiday can become!
So we join the harried, scampering people and blend into the crowded traffic of hustle and bustle without any resistance. There’s no time to spare, and people become insignificant. Too often, we don’t slow down to even catch a deep breath. Nothing deters our vigilance from the Christmas rush and our lengthening to-do lists. What a flurry of activity Christmas time can become!
At times throughout our years of ministry in the local church, my husband and I participated in a tradition called “Walk to the Manger.” Depending on the specific church, the event usually was the culmination of a depiction of the Christmas story, a children’s pageant, or musical production. As individuals, we were invited to WALK our gifts to the manger in honor of the Christ Child–God’s greatest gift to us. Often it was an opportunity to give a special offering for a special project at the end of the year. I look back at those times realizing I sometimes felt imposed upon– the WALK being just an commitment to get ready for. Today, I admit I feel remorse for those feelings that were very self-centered on my part. I was focused on the hustle and bustle and all the activities I had to accomplish–not a genuine WALK to Christmas.
How is it that the magnificent season of Christmas can become a self-absorbed activity that often brings about misdirected attitudes? Unfortunately, it is not difficult with all the media hype that begins way before December which leads us to view Christmas materialistically, diminishing the real reason for the season. We are bombarded with what Christmas could look like and how it can be more splendid. For me, there is a certain amount of pride involved in checking off items on my to-do list, planning the perfect family celebrations, buying unique gifts, or connecting with friends. The closer the date gets to December 25, the more frenzied I become as I realize I am behind. The stress level for me progresses this way: outfitted with my plans for action, rushing around turns into anxiety, then full-blown frustration, and eventually evolves into outward grumbling! Talk about stressful, activity-laden Decembers that are too full to even think about WALKING through the holiday. I run at full speed!
Being honest, I have also been guilty of the comparison game. Because certain friends appear to handle all their holiday procedures smoothly, I get to thinking that this Christmas I am sending out greeting cards early, decorating uniquely with an oomph, buying gifts early, or baking with a new flair. Caught up in comparison, I become exasperated and eventually lose joy. Then there were the Christmas Light Wars years ago when my husband and I served a church in a military community. We lived in a small subdivision filled with members from our denomination. Our home was at one end of the street, and each house on the same side all the way for an entire block and a half held church families with an additional family across the street and another church family behind us. This celebration of Christmas escalated throughout the six years we lived there. In the beginning, our neighbors delighted in becoming known throughout the community for having great light displays, but after a couple of years the wars began. What frenzy as one neighbor daily added one more lighted decoration in his front yard or another string of lights, causing another neighbor to buy an additional decoration for his home! The problem was that each family would continue for a week or two in this war game to see who could out do the other. It was crazy fun for our neighbors and friends, adding renown to our community. However, I wonder if the spectators just enjoyed the plethora of lights on display or if they were led to the true Light of Christmas. Our neighborhood’s competitive WALK to Christmas may have been festive, but did our “wars” provide peace for their souls?
Then there is the reality, that for many individuals, Christmas time is filled with trials, depression and sometimes ominous thoughts. For many it’s not a celebration because of the illness that lingers, the unemployment that looms ahead, the struggle in a personal relationship…the list could go on and on. Life can be difficult, and Christmas becomes another reminder that things are not what they should be. Six years ago, I experienced this in my own life with a herniated disc in my lower spine that had been causing issues for months. The activities leading up to Christmas had caused increasing pain. Added to the physical struggle was a death in the family about a week before Christmas that led to a drive from Chicago to Kansas City through a snowstorm. Hundreds of miles away from home, I woke up Christmas morning basically unable to move without excruciating pain. We were traveling by car and intended to head to a family gathering in Illinois. All I could do was get on a plane by myself, fly home, and have friends pick me up at the airport. I stayed in bed for days trying to get some strength back and deal with the pain that would not subside. WALKING was difficult, and the pain and emotions curtailed my joy in more ways than one.
I think back to the WALK that Joseph and Mary took from Nazareth to Bethlehem–Mary being very pregnant riding on a donkey; Joseph being on foot. I am certain that Mary had to get down off that donkey frequently. I am sure that Joseph was concerned for the woman he had committed his life to. The walk was approximately 100 miles, and it would have taken 8-10 days under the best conditions–not adding in weather related issues or other unexpected circumstances along the way. The WALK for the couple was not an option as they were to register for the census in their hometown– this journey was not a planned vacation. They WALKED onward, persevered and ended up in a lowly stable–a location that was a part of God’s plan to change history. Joseph and Mary’s journey ended with a birth of a baby boy who changed their lives and who still changes lives today.
WALK to the manger…the journey seems impossible! How can we escape the feverish activity and actually WALK to the manger? Is it possible that God may want to change our attitudes, our direction, our circumstances along the way? Are we aware that there may be a new destination–not necessarily geographical– where God is leading us? I believe that WALKING to the manger is a heart condition, being grateful and even sacrificing as we get out of ourselves and look to the Christ Child, believing in His Peace and Joy that sustains.
As I reflect back on Christmases past, I missed out by running through Christmas and not WALKING to the manger. I failed to live in the moment–the present–overlooking opportunities that might have been mine if I had not been rushing around. I was so busy being busy the true reason for the season got muddled. I believe that WALKING is about giving. Gifts do not have to be tangible or monetary but must come from the heart. Within that selfless offering, embrace others–notice the faces passing by and if appropriate engage in conversation; encourage someone with a smile or friendly greeting; allow a stranger to step ahead of you in the checkout lane or even pay for someone’s coffee behind you; make a phone call you have been putting off. Cherish the splendor of Jesus being the ONE reason for the season through worship experiences and family gatherings. WALK knowing that you are sharing the Greatest Gift of all–the Christ Child who is alive today still bringing GRACE and PEACE into hearts that acknowledge His birth.
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
Here it is less than a week from Christmas; I was able to give myself GRACE in WALKING through this post, believing that God’s timing is best. Allow your WALK every day to shine His light with a message of Joy and Peace for others. May Christmas be a wonderful reminder of the awesome God we serve who is always waiting for us with open arms. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Just Kathy…learning to WALK!