An exasperated mom who was tired of hearing the incessant “asks” for more and last-minute Christmas list additions sternly warned her tween-aged kids: “No more asking for anything until after Christmas.” And then she became quite convicted, realizing that what she is trying to teach her children is what her own heart struggles with the most.
I rush, and I rush, and I rush, to get the perfect gift for all the people. The family I love and the teachers who’ve poured so much into our family, and maybe we should get a little something for our mail carrier too? I find that my list grows longer the further into December we get, not only the list of gift items that my kids say they “Really Really REALLY” want this year, but also the list of those I’m buying gifts for, and, if I’m honest, the gifts that I hope to be given, too.
There’s something beautiful about the gift-giving at Christmas. I was talking to my daughters (who, to their credit, have been reigning in their “I wants” since the mini-lecture I gave them) about the best gift that they’ve ever received. One of them piped up, “It’s Jesus, of course!” It is because the world received The Best Gift we could ever have, and The Only Gift we ever needed, and The Gift we could never afford or earn or attain, that we celebrate the season of Christ’s coming through gift-giving.
But when does all the gift-giving, and the accompanying gift-buying, become a thinly veiled excuse for more, more, more that consumes me in the way consumerism always does? In consuming things I become a magnet for all the marketing, the Cyber Monday, and the Black Friday, and the last-minute-free-shipping, and the Kohl’s cash, and all.the.things. I become obsessive about finding the right gift, or the best gift, or the most thoughtful gift, and I can make all the gift-giving all about me.
Advent stops me in my tracks. True Advent, which is a liturgical season set aside in the church calendar specifically to prepare our hearts in anticipation of the celebration of the feast of Christmas, is something that so easily passes me by. But God is gracious, and I found a book that’s helped our family re-focus, because it’s helping me focus on the waiting and the longing that God’s people experienced for centuries between the Garden and the Manger. This anticipation and hope is parallel to us who live after the time of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, and before He returns to restore all things in glory. It’s the theological concept of “already and not yet” – the looking back and remembering what God’s already done in redemptive history, and the present-day reality that we don’t yet experience the world as fully redeemed. Scripture is woven through the pages of this devotional, called Shadow and Light by Tsh Oxenreider: a short daily reading, a contemplative question, a song to listen to and art to reflect on. God is using this book to remind me to REST. To BE.
And God also used a dear friend’s good question in early December, “What can you take off your plate?” She was addressing a group of us on a Marco Polo … and how it struck me as I was in the very middle of a very busy – and fun! – weekend where I was racing from one event and to-do item to the next. I didn’t have an immediate answer, but it was the kind of question that stayed with me, the Spirit bringing it to mind at various points as I evaluated my days and my lists. I began asking, “What don’t I need to do/buy/attend?”
I don’t know what that answer is for you. It won’t be the same as it is for me, but it’s worth asking.
Instead of chasing the answer to, “What more do I need to do or buy to be ready for Christmas?”, I’m seeking to consider what I don’t need to do or buy so that I can be more peacefully present with the family, friends, and church community I’ll gather with in these next days.-Heather Nelson / hidden glory / heatherdavisnelson.com