What kind of a title is that? I suppose it actually expresses quite well my gut feelings when it comes to the Christmas and New Year holidays. But the more I think about it, I wonder if you too meet this season with a certain ambivalence at times.
Now don’t get me wrong… we have many reasons to enjoy this time of year—whether or not we actually celebrate Christmas. I know that some of you don’t celebrate because you don’t believe in Jesus, others don’t celebrate because you don’t believe the holiday really honors God. But some of us (note the us) don’t take part in some of the celebrations because, well, there just doesn’t seem to be much of a point to it. I mean…
Why Decorate for Just Me?
This year Christmas kind of snuck up on me. The mood was already in the air when I left the USA in mid-November, after a wonderful holiday. But when I landed in Israel, I was busy from the moment I landed until, well, the Friday before Christmas when I woke up with a sore throat that turned into wheezing bronchitis. But that isn’t why I didn’t decorate this year.
The real reason was, I just didn’t feel like it. It seemed like too much work to decorate just for me. And for what? Somehow, decorations feel like something to share. They are also tied up with so many memories of Christmas past, when I was growing up and celebrated with my parents. I’ve had some great Christmases in Israel… but nothing compares the childhood traditions I grew up with.
Christmas Was an Island of Peace and Safety in an Unsafe World
Growing up, I learned quickly that so many people and situations could not be counted on to be “safe.” But Christmas was different. That time with my parents, spent decorating, the secrets in wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree and asking each other what we thought were in the boxes. And then, Christmas Eve with midnight carol services, coming home and watching “A Christmas Carol” in the middle of the night, then having breakfast and opening our presents. A lazy day sleeping, and then the evening with my adopted grandparents. The custom was drilled into my life, and repeated annually — until my Dad died. Then things changed.
Christmas came to represent for me an island of peace and safety in an unsafe world. Mixed in with the love of family and tradition was a solid faith. Unto US a child really is born! And to this day, I never cease to be in awe of the words, “And his name shall be called Emmanuel – God with us.”
“God With Us” Doesn’t Need Decorations
And so, over the years, what I’ve realized is that I don’t need decorations to celebrate “God with Us.” In fact, depending on my mood, sometimes the decorations can be downright depressing.
But I wonder, what about you? Do some of you have bittersweet memories that give a different flavor to this time of year? Traditions no longer observed, memories that while good – sadden because you know you can never go back? Or perhaps the absence of a loved one, or feeling forgotten by someone. An empty mailbox, no packages under the tree.
But you still believe “God with Us” or you long to know, “is God really with us?”
Over the years, particularly here in Israel, I’ve realized that celebrating “God with Us” does not require decorations or tradition. At first, I struggled with ambivalence – I want to decorate – I don’t want to decorate… And then I realized, it didn’t matter. I could enjoy it or not.
And then I began to understand that I could enjoy other peoples’ joy in the season, without having to celebrate the same way they do. I can enjoy their decorations and their customs. I can rejoice in my precious memories, and I can rejoice in my Savior – without the decorations. There are no midnight caroling services in Haifa (that I know of) but I can sing carols at home and in my heart – all year round.
God Really Is with Us
And so, as my mind rambles with these musings, I realize, it doesn’t really matter whether we celebrate this holiday or not. Do you enjoy the family celebrations and tradition, the giving and receiving of presents? Great! Do you prefer to go without? That’s OK too. Are you relieved Christmas is over for another year? Then seriously, think about doing things differently next year.
Christmas, ultimately, should remind us of Christ – the Messiah – God with us. A challenge to you who don’t believe, and a comfort to those of us who do. Because here is the thing – God really is with us 24/7. He created you and me, and He won’t give up on us for as long as we have life and breath.
HE is our island of peace and safety in an unsafe world.
Trusting HIM requires no decorations,
And when we live for Him, it’s not “me.”
A Happy New Year is Possible
These are thoughts that give me comfort and encouragement. These are thoughts that help me realize that no matter what my circumstances: healthy or sick, in plenty or in want, alone or in fellowship with others, I can have a happy new year. Because the source of my happiness isn’t based on any of these things, or on a celebration or a ball dropping in Times Square… my happiness is based on the God who is with us, and who is with me!
So if you are struggling with the holidays, and can’t wait for New Year’s to be past as well… I hope and pray that my rambling thoughts can be an encouragement to you.
Isaiah 7:14 & Isaiah 9:6
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel [God with us].
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.