I wasn’t going to string the Christmas tree lights wrong again.
I’d been deliberate in putting them away. And as I unpacked them, I thought it through: If I need the male electrical end to plug into the outlet, I have to start with the female end at the top of the tree.
(Does your mind giggle a little bit at the thought of male and female electrical parts? I’m so junior-high.)
Carols filled the air as I encircled the tree with lights.
All is calm …
… until I tried to plug them in — and discovered a male end.
Grumble, grumble, grouse, grouse. All was not bright. How did I mess this up again?
Moments like this convince me Christmas is from Satan. At least the trappings of Christmas are.
At no other time of year do I so consistently think such unholy thoughts.
And don’t get me started on the rest of the decorations, the gift decisions, the increased traffic…
There has to be a better way; It’s got to be possible to celebrate Jesus’ birth while still honoring God.
After all, Jehovah is a God of peace, not of disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33) — so I’m certain this chaos isn’t from Him.
My Solutions (Which Don’t Work)
For years I thought the cause of Christmas stress was other people.
If they would just get with the program, act the way they’re supposed to, and not cause me extra grief, everything would be peaceful.
Long story short: “good luck with that.”
Then I became convicted that I can’t change other people; I can only change myself.
So the solution was obvious: I needed to be more organized.
Because if I scheduled my time better, I’d be able to do All The Things and not make myself (or my family) crazy.
Sounds wonderful. And to some extent, it works.
… until I get sick. Or the car breaks down. Or anything (or anyone – ahem!) deviates from The Very Specific Plan in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
When the schedule’s disrupted, I’m forced to stay up half the night cleaning the house and decorating to fit in all the things that must be done.
Because if our Christmas celebration expresses our love for God and our appreciation of His Son…
- It has to be perfect.
- We have to be joyful.
- And we have to do all the things…
Or do we?
The Bible’s Wisdom
What does the Bible say about it?
Of course, the Bible has nothing to say about Christmas celebrations. Because the church didn’t even celebrate it until around Christ’s 300th birth. In fact, some Christians suggest we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas at all because the early Christians didn’t.
I’m certainly not going to tackle that topic.
But there must be some Biblical guidelines we can apply to this season, because
“all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
So, let’s take a look.
1. “I hate your annual festivals”
Sure enough, about 700 years before Christ came to earth, the prophet Isaiah warned the Israelites that they’d perturbed God. As part of the condemnation, he penned these words:
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways. (Isaiah 1:13-16, my emphasis)
Now, to be clear, these words weren’t written specifically to us; nor were they written about the celebration of Christmas. But we can use them to inform our current situation.
Notice especially the portion of the scripture I bolded above:
“I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate… your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! …. Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways.”
Even though the Israelites celebrated festivals and offered up sacrifices meant to honor and please Almighty God, He was not happy with the celebrations. In fact, he couldn’t stand them!
The short answer: the people had sinned. Repeatedly.
Might God also be displeased with our celebrations — which are meant to honor Him — if we’re sinning?
As I struggled to be patient with my son, I strung lights on the tree (again!), cooked dinner, and then rushed to dress so we’d be on time to the Christmas concert. Ugh.
If the holidays can be such a heavy burden to us, might they possibly be an even bigger burden to God? Certainly, when I’m getting angry at Christmas lights (hello! they’re inanimate!) — and taking it out on those around me — I’m sinning. And I’m falling into the Enemy’s trap.
And having a short temper isn’t the only sin we fall prey to at the holidays.
2. “Get your sins out of my sight!”
But, wait a minute! I trust our hands aren’t “covered with the blood of innocent victims,” so this doesn’t apply to us, right?
You’d think. Except Jesus warned:
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Oops! In holiday traffic, I’ve been known to call people idiots (and worse) — perhaps not to their faces, but in my car and in my heart.
What other sins might we be prone to during the holiday season?
Here are a few the Bible warns about:
- brazen conduct, wild parties, drunkenness, sexual immorality — even tame parties can include sinful behavior that seems “not that bad” (Galatians 5:19,21)
- hostility, strife, fits of anger — family gatherings and the Costco parking lot; enough said (Galatians 5:20)
- jealousy, envy — it’s hard not to compare when everyone’s trotting out their year’s greatest accomplishments (Galatians 5:20-21)
- gluttony — yep, I’ve not met a dessert I don’t want to try (Proverbs 28:7)
- covetousness — with so much buying, it can be a struggle not to want more (Luke 12:15)
But our overt sins aren’t the only ones that can hinder us.
3. Aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?”
A story in the book of Zechariah comes to mind (paraphrased from Zechariah 7:2-10)
As the Israelites rebuilt the temple, they wondered:
“Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, as we have done for so many years?”
What does rebuilding the temple 500 years before Jesus’ arrival have to do with celebrating his birth? Again, it’s not the specific event we’re interested in, but the principles involved.
So how did the prophet Zechariah respond to the Israelites?
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies sent me this message: “During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned was it really for me that you were fasting? And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?”
Wow! Am I sometimes eating and drinking only to please myself? What about decorating, cookie-making, and gift-buying?
I can tell myself this glorifies God and commemorates Christ’s birth. And much of the time I believe it.
- But are all the pinterest-worthy decorations really for God, or for me?
- Does God need seven varieties of homemade cookies? Or do I?
- Can even the gift-giving be for me?
Sure, I want to love on my family and friends through my gifts. But don’t I also want them to think I’m loving, or thoughtful, or clever?
As Zechariah’s account continues, he tells us what God wants instead of the traditions of men:
“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.”
Wow! There’s no mention at all of the largest variety of cookies or the most beautifully-wrapped gifts.
The True Solution
Like the ancient Israelites, sometimes I don’t “hear the instructions or the messages that the LORD of Heaven’s Armies [sent] by his Spirit” (Zechariah 7:12).
I’m sure I’ll have more moments of frustration this holiday season. And the goodies? Yep, they’ll still tempt me. As will my human tendency to see the holiday trappings as a reflection of myself instead of an opportunity to glorify God.
Each of these situations will remind me I have a long way to go.
But they’ll also remind me why God sent His Son in the first place: because I, and so many others, past and present, am not good at listening to His instructions.
As we celebrate and remember Jesus’ birth, let’s set aside the crazy-making aspects of the season (which are really the traditions of men), and focus whole-heartedly on honoring Him.
How will you choose to pivot from chaos to peace this holiday season? Come on over to the Facebook page so we can share ideas!