My dear reader,
There’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’m just going to come right out and type it (in 14-point Serif for all the world to see):
I flunked Christmas.
Christmas-past passed. But sadly, I did not.
Christmas is meant for silent, holy nights. For wonder and worship. For ruminating and reflecting, singing and stargazing. For basking in the brilliant light and boundless love of the One whose birth we celebrate. For marveling at God’s mercy and grace and peace.
I know this about Christmas, deep inside. In years past I’ve lived it… and loved it.
But somehow, I let it bypass my heart and slip through my fingers this year.
I did more running than ruminating. More hurrying and scurrying than pondering and praying. More stressing than stargazing. More wrapping than worshipping.
Sure, I went to church and did my Advent readings. But in all honesty, even those sublime invitations to come close to Jesus, I approached like tasks on my to-do list.
Deck the halls.
Mail the cards.
Bake the cookies.
Buy the gifts.
Check. Check. Check. Check.
And now that the parties are past, the cookies have crumbled, and the wrapping paper has been torn and tossed, I’m left with a hollow ache. And wistful sorrow.
Because I find myself right back where I began…
Wayward. Wandering. Weary of my own faint heart and feeble faith. I am still woefully shaky and shallow. And so often I buckle beneath fear… or foolish pride.
Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:15-25, The Message)
This Christmas, I unintentionally averted my gaze… left my guide… missed the mark.
I abandoned sacred for scattered. Holy for harried. Divine for distressed. And I had a meltdown in the health and beauty section of the Meijer superstore. (Which was neither healthy nor beautiful, as I’m sure you can imagine.) I came thisclose to having a full-blown panic attack when I discovered the Dove Men’s Sculpting Paste was sold out. No joke.
I ugly-cried over stocking stuffers. Which pretty much sums up my entire Advent season.
I shortchanged my Savior and myself.
Jesus, forgive me.
I find myself right back where I began. Where I belong. Begging forgiveness.
I have no excuses… I’m just a jar of clay.
My rough edges and brokenness draw blood.
And along with my own regularly self-inflicted damage, there’s the constant battering from life. And my fellow earthlings.
Some of my gashes and nicks are nearly indetectable to the naked eye. But I’ve got some pretty big cracks in this fragile exterior. And glaring imperfections on the inside too.
You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:5-10
That’s the thing about our nicks and cracks and the missing pieces jarred loose by life’s barrage. Those are the places the light shines through. We’re all broken vessels. Cracked pots. Damaged goods. Discarded, dumped, doomed. Desperately waiting for a rescuer, a re-purposer, a real-life miracle worker to clean us up and fill us full.
When Jesus came down to this dusty earth, that’s what He did. He poured it all out for us… and then poured it all in to us. And now, here we live, awash in His love and mercy. Illuminated by the light of His Spirit. Filled and fueled by holy fire.
Light pouring forth. Love seeping through. Hope spilling all around.
And if that isn’t reason for elation and celebration, I don’t know what is.
Happy New Year, revelers!!!
P.S. In keeping with my luminaries reference, I was going to suggest that everyone GET LIT… but after my 19-year-old (and the Urban Dictionary) more thoroughly explained the meaning of the phrase, I concluded that would be highly inappropriate and terribly ill-advised. So, instead, I’ll just say…