Christmas Dissonance {More Advent Thoughts}

I have long struggled with the reality of living in a busy culture. A culture that has certain traditions and expectations (not necessarily bad ones either). A culture that is run by a clock with deadlines and appointments and places to be. Constantly.

And, especially during any kind of holiday. Like, oh say, Christmas.

I wrestle with it because I have conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I bemoan the hectic pace and the expectations. The December to-do list can be crushing. On the other hand, I really like doing some of the things I do. I like making teacher gifts. I like decorating the tree and baking cookies. I like the added events like Christmas parties and concerts.

As a result, I feel a great dissonance. I want to keep Christmas simple. Even though I know it has become a circus. But I don’t totally want to kill the circus. Because it’s fun. Even though I know the circus can be a little distracting. And so it goes. Dissonance. In my soul. Over Christmas.

Usually, I just try to be more organized. I don’t truly simplify. I just organize the chaos a little better. But even THAT only sort-of works. Because I get halfway through December and realize I’ve been making Rick’s favorite Christmas cookies for other people. But not for him.

Last year, I was super proud of us because we decided to only send our Christmas card/letter/picture thingy out every OTHER year. I know, right? Just every OTHER year. Whew. Those McKees are really taming the circus with that one. Impressed, aren’t you?

Well, I can’t say that I’ve solved the dissonance in my soul over this whole thing. I haven’t. I’m still wrestling. BUT, I’ll leave you with a few words from my Advent devotional. I’m glad for voices that challenge me to keep wrestling. (Otherwise, I’d probably just believe the Target commercials and give into buying more stuff to make my house more perfect and my kids more happy.)

This entry is penned by Loretta Ross-Grott, an American author and dramatist.

The intensity and strain that many of us bring to Christmas must suggest to some onlookers that, on the whole, Christians do not seem to have gotten the point of it. Probably few of us have the faith or the nerve to tamper with hallowed Christmas traditions on a large scale, or with our other holiday celebrations. But a small experiment might prove interesting. What if, instead of DOING something, we were to BE something special? Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised.”

Well, there you have it.

Advent Reflections {Sharing from Watch for the Light}

As I mentioned yesterday, I’d like to use my blog space to share snippets from the Advent book I’ve been reading this year. It’s a great collection of thoughts from various authors/speakers.

This is one is by Madeline L’Engle. It’s just a couple of paragraphs but I love the imagery she conjures:

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all His love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?”

Think about that for a sec. Don’t you just love image of it? All the universe pausing at this one moment in time at the wonder of it.

She goes on: “Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing. Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer enough, and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years…

Yes. This.

This is Christmas.

 

How to Slow the Season

Today is the first day of December. In 25 days we will be celebrating in homes all across the country. Those of us who claim to follow Christ are supposed to be celebrating His birth. But, I wonder if we really are. I wonder if we’re really celebrating the American Dream with some Jesus platitudes thrown in.

I think we sense that we’re a little “off” and that somehow Christmas has gotten off track. We taste the dissonance. We even attempt to change. For most of us, the solution has been to get more organized, not really reform our heart’s focus.

What if we made it less about better time management and gift budgeting… and more about Jesus? I don’t want to just put a governor on my spending or make better lists or freeze meals ahead of time. I want to actually change where I focus my gaze. On what Whom I set my affections.

Some two thousand years ago, the Creator of this vast universe did the unthinkable. He stepped down from His throne where He receives honor and praise and glory unceasing. He left all of that, squeezing His infinite self into frail flesh.

I think we only sort of fathom what that meant for Him and way it changed everything for us.

Maybe this December could be about trying to fathom just a little bit more of it. Would you join me in trying?

 

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Getting Ready for Christmas

The tree is adorned. The presents have been wrapped. Cookies baked. Last errands run. Kid-sized Christmas outfits washed for our service tonight. Menus decided and food prep nearly finished.

And, yet, I wonder, am  I ready? I want more this Christmas. I feel it – the deep emptiness of the Christmas to-do list. The longing for more than having my ducks in a row.

As I ponder it, I am touched by these words from Brennan Manning…

Do you hear what [they] are saying? Let go of your paltry desires and expand your expectations. Christmas means that God has given us nothing less than himself and his name is Jesus Christ. Be unwilling [this] Christmas to settle for anything else. Don’t order “just a piece of toast” when eggs Benedict are on the menu. Don’t come with a thimble when God has nothing less to give you than the ocean of himself. Don’t be contented with a “nice” Christmas when Jesus says, “It has pleased my Father to give you the Kingdom.” Pray, go to work, play Trivial Pursuit, eat banana bread, exchange presents, go caroling, feed the hungry, comfort the lonely, and do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Will I settle for toast when a feast awaits me? I pray not.

Inserting the No-Comparison Clause

The comparison game. It’s a soul-killer and a joy-stealer.

And yet we are so prone to it. Always measuring ourselves against others. Wondering if we measure up… If we have what it takes…

No good can come of it. Either we judge ourselves more highly and we approach our relationships with pride. Or we find ourselves to be “less than” and loathe our inadequacies.

But, what if we could settle the question of our worth in Jesus. And, then just be freed up to learn from each other. To say “oh, what a great idea” without feeling that pang of inadequacy that comes because we didn’t think of it first?

Could we try that? Here’s my deal: I’ll share some fun advent ideas with you if you’ll promise to just take what you can from the ideas and not feel weight or pressure or inadequacy.

And, would you please share some of your ideas and traditions in the comment box below? You tend not to be a very “commenty” bunch. But, I’d love to hear what you do to make the month of December more about Jesus and less about you. Would you? Please?

Here’s my first offering. It’s a free e-book from my favorite blog, A Holy Experience. Ann is a farmer’s wife in Canada and momma to six kiddos. Her photography and her writing are beautiful expressions from her life journey. The e-book shares her family’s Jesse tree devotional. AND, it’s so simple that there’s still time for you to put this one into action.

Now, it’s your turn. What about you? How do you celebrate the coming of the King? No idea is too simple or too silly for this space. Afterall, we’re not comparing, right?

Let the Preparations Begin

The pressure mounts, the ads screaming for my attention. They tell me that a perfect table and beautiful decorations will make my Christmas perfect. Buying the right music, wearing the right clothes, giving the right gifts, preparing the right meal, attending the right performances. Are those really the keys to a meaningful Christmas?

If I’m honest, I must admit that sometimes I think they are.

I believe the commercials and get caught up in the sparkles. I don’t mean to. I have good intentions. But… it’s just so easy to go with the flow.

How did it come to this? Us turning history’s most amazing event ever into another excuse to feed all of our lusts? The Most High took on flesh and dwelt among us… and what is our response? We distract ourselves with flatscreen TV sales and ultra-busy schedules.

And we say we do all of it to celebrate His birth? I think we’ve been duped. All too willingly. 

So, how can we fight this tendancy? How can we make it about more about Jesus and less about us? One thing I love about the blogosphere is getting to read about some of the beaufitul ideas that families have come up with to keep Jesus’ birthday celebration about Him.

Perhaps I’ll be able to share a few here in these first days of Advent. (If I were a really good blogger, I would have already shared them so that you could use them this Advent! Hmmm. I’m sorry about that. Maybe some will still point you in the right direction!)

For now, I’ll share one that is special to our family… it’s a summary of a post I did earlier this year.

We start with a simple Playmobile nativity set. It’s not the most beautiful or artistic set you’ll ever find but it’s pretty indestructible. It’s very hands-on and the kids love it.

This weekend I will set up the stable with the animals and even put the shepherd tending his sheep on a hill nearby. The scene stays that way until the evening of December 21st when we start reading the Biblical account and adding figures to the scene.

On the 21st, we read Luke 1:26-38 and introduce Mary along with the angel. Rick reads the passage, allowing the kids to “act out” the characters with the Playmobile figures. We highlight the fact that “nothing is impossible with God” and I close by praying.

On the 22nd, we read Matthew 1:18-24 and introduce Joseph (also with the angel). On this night we underscore the angel’s message that Jesus is “Emmanuel, God with us” and that “He will save his people from their sins.”

On the 23rd we read Luke 2:1-7, which is the account of Jesus’ actual birth.

I know, I know. Christmas isn’t until the 25th, right? Why are we reading about the birth on the 23rd? I assure you, there is a method to our madness! This schedule allows us to finish the story on the 25th with the record of the Magi and the exchanging of gifts.

On the 24th,we read Luke 2:8-20 and talk about the shepherds. Rick and I love this part of the story because it underscores the fact that the angels announced this amazing news to regular people. They didn’t go to the religious elite or announce it in the temple. The first hearers of the Good News were normal, work-a-day people like you and me.

On the morning of the 25th, we read Matthew 2:1-2 & 7-12 and introduce the Magi. We talk about their journey to find Jesus and their insightful gifts: gold, a gift for a King; frankincense, a gift for Deity; and myrhh, a gift for the dead. That’s our Jesus: King of Kings, God incarnate, and the One who came to die on our behalf.

Then we pray and exchange our own gifts.

Caleb was 4- and Madison 2-years-old when we started this tradition. Both of them would tell you that it’s a favorite part of the holiday season for them. Usually they also get a glass of eggnog and a Christmas cookie after we read and we end the evening with hope and joy. Our conversations have gotten a little more intense as they get older and begin to really wrestle with the idea that God took on flesh and became a baby for our sakes. It’s fun for Rick and I to see the tradition growing with them a bit.

It’s a simple tradition and it’s certainly not the only one out there. I know other families who do other neat things to celebrate. Some years, we add other things to our Advent celebration. Those come and go as we see fit. But, this one is our constant and it helps us keep our eyes on Jesus in a very tangible way.

If it can serve you in some way, great. If not, thanks for letting me share a bit of our McKee family tradition with you.

Waiting for Christmas

Right now the trough is empty save a few handfuls of hay. The cow hovers nearby. A few sheep are on the hillside with their shepherd. In a week, it will be a different scene but for now, we wait. Waiting for Mary on her donkey and Joseph. For the starry host and the Babe.

It’s a tradition we started when Caleb was a toddler. Like so many of you, we were looking for a way to bring Christmas alive for our kids. Not the buying frenzy that Christmas has become. But, the real Christmas. The one that celebrates the mystery and glory of the God of the universe taking on flesh to live with us. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. – Jn. 1:14

How could we stay our hearts on that reality? How could we help our kids do the same? Afterall, the lure of gifts wrapped under the tree can be a lot more powerful in a young heart than a story about a baby born 2,000 years ago in a place we’ve never been for a reason that, while profound, can be a little hard for young minds to understand.

So we began to look for a nativity. There are some beautiful sets out there but we wanted one that they could play with. Something they could touch and interact with over and over again. (And, play they have. I’m pretty sure that Joseph and the angel did NOT have a swordfight with the shepherd’s staff in the Biblical record. But, it didn’t take our warrior-son Caleb long to figure out that it could be done in his account in our living room!)

We also decided to keep the manger empty. We wanted them to anticipate the coming. “When does Jesus come, Dadda?” “Patience. Mary and Joseph will come soon, as Christmas nears. You’ll just have to wait.”

And the waiting is good, I know. Admittedly, I’m not very good at it. I usually skip ahead about half-way through a book and read the last chapter because I can’t stand the anticipation. The not-knowing kills me. But, expectation and hunger can be a good thing. It reminds us that there is something more to come. Something left undone will finally be completed. The status quo isn’t the end-all.

Deep in our hearts, we sense that there’s more and we long for it. We wait for it.

And, so, we hope. Christmas reminds us of that. He came once 2,000 years ago. He left His throne and passed through the heavens to become a babe. A babe who would grow up to live the life that I should have lived and die the death that I deserved to die.

But, there is something more to come. He’s coming back. (I’ve read the last chapter!) The waiting isn’t over. I am still full of anticipation as I look for His return.  And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges… Rev. 19:11

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying or pain; the first things have passed away.” Rev. 21:3-4

 I still wait because the first waiting makes no sense without the second waiting.

In few days our trough will be full. Mary and Joseph will come to our creche and the kids will anticipate the arrival of our Playmobile Jesus. For now, the waiting will be over. We’ll rejoice in that birth. And, we will celebrate. It will be a great day.

But, all the while, we’ll be looking for His return. …and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True…
holy experience

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