Time Out (by Jerry Schmoyer)
Because of a last minute change in my wife’s vacation policy at work we ended up taking our 30th wedding anniversary 6 months early – less than 2 weeks before Christmas. Fortunately a poor economy and last-minute rock-bottom rates enabled us to get an unbelievably great deal and last week we found ourselves at a beautiful resort near Cancun, sitting on the beach. Our biggest concern was making sure we didn’t get too sun burnt! It certainly wasn’t like any other Christmas season I had ever experienced!
There was a Christmas tree in the lobby of the resort. Here and there throughout town were subtle reminds that it was almost Christmas. Every once in a while Felice Navidad could be heard playing in the background. But it definitely did not seem like Christmas.
I sat on the beach one day pondering that whole idea of what Christmas should “seem” like. Being from Pennsylvania, it seems like cold weather and snow, family traditions and decorations, singing Christmas carols in church, shopping, sending cards and visiting friends. That’s what Christmas seems like to me. But as I sat on that beach I was struck with reality of it all – what does cold weather and familiar activities have to do with the birth of Jesus? Absolutely nothing! Not a thing I associated with Christmas had anything to do with God Himself leaving heaven to come to earth to pay for my sins. Clearly the birth of God’s Son wasn’t the central focus of the holiday I was celebrating. It was a quite sobering thought, a humbling revelation.
I’m as quick as anyone to reject the idea of a “Winter Holiday” as secular and insist it is Jesus’ birthday I celebrate. Yet when it doesn’t “seem” like His birthday without my cultural traditions it makes me wonder. What should Christmas really “seem” like anyway?
Then my thoughts ran to how God looks at our customs at this time of year. Is He angry? Upset? Disappointed? Jealous? Quite honestly, I don’t think He minds the traditions and customs that make it “seem” like Christmas, as long as we keep Jesus as the central focus of it all. He created the colors and sounds, the smells and tastes, the music and togetherness that makes this time of year special. Yet if that is all it is then something is missing. Why even bother? Clearly many of our fellow vacationers didn’t bother at all. This whole massive event we put on every December can either help us remember the reason for the season, or it can keep us so busy we leave Jesus our of His own birthday party.
How can we keep Him in focus? It has to happen in our hearts and devotion, in our love and praise to Him, in giving Him the credit for all we have and telling others about Him. It transcends location and weather, traditions and cultural events. It may not “seem” like the Pennsylvania Christmas celebration I am used to when I sit on a Mexican beach right before Christmas, but then it isn’t the externals that make it Christmas anyway – it’s what happens in my heart. That’s where the real celebration takes place, wherever my body is.
So if this applies to you, if things have changed and it doesn’t “seem” like Christmas, realize that you are looking at the wrong things. The essence of the season is a God who loves us so much He gave up everything so we could one day be with Him in heaven. And if your ducks are all lined up so that it “seems” like Christmas to you, make sure you look within and not at the external celebration to find what Christmas is all about. If it “seems” like Christmas or not doesn’t matter. It is – because God Himself came to earth in human flesh! And that’s where our center of attention must be!
If you would like to focus a bit more on Jesus this season here are some suggestions.
- Pray and ask God to return to you the special “magic” of this season, to give you a fresh awe and wonder concerning the miracle of His coming to earth.
- Write Him a card expressing your love. Then get a gift for Jesus. Do something that would please Him like helping someone in need, getting a gift for those without finances, make a donation to a worthy charity or ministry, etc.
- Memorize some or all of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke.
- Make sure you have a special time of devotions each day. Focus on family devotions as well. Don’t be too busy for this.
- Take time to discuss some of your favorite memories of past Christmas celebrations.
- Reach out to someone without family and include them in your family events.
- Read the words of some Christmas carols slowly, thinking about what they mean. You can even use them as the basis of a prayer.
- Write down a list of how your life would be different if Jesus has never come to earth.
- Have a birthday cake for Jesus first thing Christmas morning. Read the Christmas story in Luke and sing happy birthday to Jesus.
Jerry Schmoyer has been a minister in Pennsylvania for over 25 years and has worked with teenagers for 14 years, ever since I became one myself. He authors the weekly Time Out series here at Life in Student Ministry in hopes to spiritually refresh your soul as you continually pour so much of yourself into students. God bless!
Posted on December 22, 2008