I've been wrestling with years about Christmas.
My heart has oscillated and spun clear around at times like a weather vane in Kansas wind when I've dwelt for more than a minute on the hows and whys of celebrating this holiday. I've tried so hard to reconcile and justify the hodge-podge of the mayhemously secular (shopping, decorating, baking, extra events, certain music) with the simple message of the mysteriously sacred (Christ came to earth from heaven for His Father's sake, and I benefited from His obedience).
I've been harshly judgmental in the past about things like Santa, extravagant gift-giving, Christmas songs on Christian radio that clearly are not about Christ but about snow, sentiment, and sleigh bells. I've hopped on a soapbox about photo Christmas cards being more about "looky at us" rather than "behold the Lamb!" I've blasted people in my heart for asking for things they don't need--or even for confusing needs with wants. I've blasted myself for the same. I've even used "that tone" (that scolding voice) when telling my kids, "Get the word need out of your vocabulary. It's like saying 'I'm starving.' I don't let you say that. You can say you're very hungry, but you are NOT starving! You have no idea what starvation feels like." But then within a couple hours, I say something stupid like, "I need a new set of steak knives because these are dull" or "I need to take the van through the car wash." First off, owning dull steak knives means I can afford steak. Second, owning a vehicle that I can splurge hundreds of gallons of wash water on is nothing short of two luxuries in one, not a need.
I have felt guilty in the past for being a middle-class American. At Christmas especially, it has felt wrong to me. I have gone down the path of "I don't deserve this lifestyle" to almost accusing God for allowing other people to be poor--and in so doing, accusing Him of not being fair. Forgetting that He chose to become poor, not middle class or rich by anyone's standards, when He came.
And yet, for all the guilt, I have honestly enjoyed many parts of Christmas that have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. I love looking at a tree with twinkling lights and feeling nostalgic over certain ornaments. I love getting pictures of people's family as a Christmas card, and being counted as their friend. I love baking and eating gingerbread men and strawberry thumbprint cookies and peanut butter blossoms.
So this year I have pondered the freeing words, "It's okay. I love you." These words have echoed from Christ to me over and over. Whenever the guilt starts to rise as I ask Him, "What does wired ribbon have to do with your birth?" I hear him say, "Nothing. But it's okay. I love you." Or when my toe is tapping to "Jingle Bells" and I stop to say,"Wait. There's nothing in that song about Jesus," and I feel condemned for liking a song the angels didn't sing in Bethlehem, I sense the "it's okay. I love you." Or when I have felt ashamed that I really DO have a wish list for things like new pajamas, better towels, or a surprise piece of jewelry (despite my gratitude for what I already have) God has whispered, "It's okay. I love you." Not that he's okay with my greed, but He understands the twins of my heart--gratitude and greed--and that neither will be enough this side of Heaven. Or when I'm having trouble not wanting to buy everything I see for my kids that I know they'd just love or "need" (ahem!), it's as though God is smiling and saying, "That's My heart coming through. And that's good, but I am the only One with unlimited resources."
So this year, I've become gut-level honest about Christmas.
I love the Christmas carols that remind me of a holy night that probably was not snowy at all. I love the smell of fresh pine and don't try to force it to remind me of the ugly stench of the Tree on which Jesus died, as if thinking such thoughts makes me a more "focused" (read "better") Christian. Rather, I realized I was being corny and cheesy by trying to make every secular symbol have some sort of sacred meaning. A strawberry thumbprint doesn't have to convert to Christianity in December. I can just make them and eat them because...um...it's Christmastime!
I have been freed from "Christmas guilt" this year. By giving thanks to God rather than questioning "Why have You spoiled me by putting me in 21st century, middle-class America?" I find freedom. It's okay. He loves me. Listening to "secular" music (as long as it doesn't glorify self or the Enemy or take me down paths I shouldn't go) is okay. He loves me. Sending cards with an artist's rendition of baby Jesus or sending pictures of people made in the image of God? Both are okay. He loves me.
Thank you ,Father, for freeing my heart to love Christmas this year. It's finally okay with me to celebrate it with gusto and to let others do the same. I love You.