One December a few years ago I found myself very close to burnout. The national office was shutting down the local branch of the Bible College (seminary for my American readers!) I was helping to run; I was preparing to take up a new role as pastor of my church and on top of that our first baby had come into the world. It was a time where I didn’t set good boundaries, didn’t delegrate well and didn’t get enough sleep! At a deeper level was a sense of profound inadequacy in the face of all these responsibilities; an inadequacy I still wrestle with sometimes. The elders told me to take the month off (thank you!), Kiley went with bubs to Nana’s and I started breathing.
God showed up for me in the words of an aging Anglican vicar as he gave his Advent message: “Wake up and slow down.” Now, every Christmas season I return to those words and reflect on their profound wisdom. We need to wake up to the true story of Christmas. Not the one about a fat man in a red suit; nor the one about trees and lights and presents; nor even the one about the joy of family. I mean the one written about in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus being born is God’s big YESSS! to humanity. He will not leave us alone. His love is so great that he takes on our existence, faces our temptations, experiences hunger, thirst, blisters. He was so determined to identify with us in our weaknesses that he chose a young virgin as a mum and a feeding trough for his first bed. The real story of Christmas is that of a God who’s so determined to rescue and redeem humanity and restore his image in them, that he’ll humiliate himself even to the point of being a helpless infant to do it. Let’s wake up to that story and that love.
But we also need to slow down and dwelling in the true story helps us to do it. So much of the Christmas celebration is taken up with the external trappings; buying presents, decorations, extravagant feasts, holiday planning and the like, that we are in serious danger of neglecting our hearts. This is a tragedy when you consider that at the heart of the story is divine, extravagant love. So, in this time of Advent (the season of prepearation for the Christ-child) we need to ask ourselves, “what do I need to do to tend my heart this Christmas?” It maybe that you need to put limits on the external trappings. Buy for less people, lower the amount you spend, don’t put up all the decorations, say no to some invitations for dinner and so on.
Much of what we do over Christmas is to try and cultivate a sense of wonder. As children we loved the trees and lights, the presents and carols didn’t we? We gazed in wonder at many things and I think we long to return there every Christmas even if it’s via our children. But for many, Christmas is a painful time or a lonely time. It becomes a stark reminder of what you don’t have. Wonder is the last thing on their minds. But wonder is exactly what God wants to give us at Christmas. The carol sings about “the wonders of his love” and to cultivate that wonder we need to dwell in the story. Read it over and over again. Dwell in John 1, Philippians 2 and Hebrews 2 and other verses that speak of Jesus’ beautiful humanity.
So this Christmas, Wake Up, Slow Down and be Embraced by the Wonders of his Love!!!