The holidays are upon us and all the imagery and pageantry of the season is beginning to blossom before our eyes. As decorations go up and the malls become increasingly chaotic, all the holiday memories and stories start to come out from the storage bins in our mind. We recall all the goofy gifts, the dishes we swore we would “never serve again,” and of course uncle Earl’s obligatory – yet tacky – Christmas sweater.
With so much emphasis on the traditions we feel bound to uphold, preparations to make, and shopping to do, it is almost as if we have forgotten the greatest gift of all. Now, I know that Christians remember what this holiday is all about. It is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We will arm ourselves with letters, petitions, buttons, t-shirts, and bumper stickers in the battle to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Yet, in all this, what we wind up doing is marveling at the box and wrapping paper without taking the time to unwrap the Gift. We have not unpacked the box and tried putting it all together. It’s like we live in a 12-bedroom mansion but never leave the foyer. The giving and receiving of gifts, the décor, it’s all superficial celebration. What we need is authentic gratitude.
Amid the squeals of joy and celebration dances, the excitement is evident, but gratitude is a different animal. Gratitude is expressed over time through the use of the gift. Have you ever given someone something that they seemed so glad to receive, only to discover it remains in its box in the closet unused? Or winds up re-gifted? How about giving someone a gift that they use every day? Which one seems more grateful for the gift?
God has given more than a “get out of hell free card” that we stick in our wallet until such time as we need it. He has given us himself. When the Son left the throne room of heaven, bound himself in our limitations, and walked among us, he was offering us new life. Jesus offers to execute our flesh and raise us in his own image. That means he gives us new values, morals, priorities, dreams, and desires. It means he changes the way we think, the way we see things, the way we process information, and the way we respond to others. It means that he does not become merely a part of our life, but rather Lord over all of it.
When we relegate Christ to the areas of our life that we are comfortable with him meddling in, we deny Him and treat his precious gift with contempt placing the light he gave us under a bowl. To explore God’s gift of himself we need to surrender even the most fragile, the dirtiest, the most shameful, and the most precious parts of our life to him. We will never experience God’s goodness and greatness if we try to keep him confined to Sunday morning worship, regular church activities, and annual holidays.
It is good to keep Christ in Christmas, but it is more important to “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15), to “in all your ways acknowledge him” (Proverbs 3:6), and allow him to “search [you] and know [your] heart, know [your] anxious thoughts and see if there is any offensive way in [you]” (Psalm 139:23-24). Even in the everyday things you feel you can handle, take time to stop and measure your expectations and priorities, your values and plans against God’s. Put the gift of His presence and new life to use at every opportunity and see how your everyday life lights up like…Christmas.