(The Preacher, our Monkey-grandson, and me...riding the choo choo at the mall...)
Years back, the holidays used to bug me. And they still can, if I don't remain vigilant to look past the trappings and into the heart of God. The crude commercialization. The old Christmas carols, ruined by pretty-boy bands. The extra work combined with the shortened energy levels that come with less daylight. Yet - at the same time, I have always found ways to love Christmas. Each late-November, I begin to reach down deep inside - where the presence of God dwells - and I figure out how it is that I, Sheila Atchley, celebrate the Reason for the Season.
So. I'm not a "bah-humbug" in any sense of the word. Even though the song "Santa Baby" still gives me a fit of tourette syndrome. I twitch. I exclaim.
In spite of it all, the last several years I've not encountered the slightest negativity inside. After a great deal of amazed pondering, I offer you a few thoughts - humble, not at all earth-shaking, and maybe not even blog-worthy, but nevertheless...I've discovered what, for me, puts the joy in this simple season.
1. Celebrate your way.
In years past, I had begun allowing others to dictate the season to me (and much of my time all year 'round, in fact), in the sense that if they invited me over, I felt obligated to accept for various reasons - to help them through a time of transition, to cheer them up, to just have fun, to assist in this or that, to prevent them from having to be alone. This translated into me always "going", and cutting way, way back on what I love - which is nesting. Having people in my home, spending time with my family. Over the months and even years I had allowed others to dictate my time, I didn't realize how deeply it was suffocating me. Out of love, out of an honorable motive, I was allowing myself to be squeezed and molded into someone else's agenda. So, these last several years, I have spent the Christmas season exactly how I want to spend it...doing what I love, for heaven's sake! Filling my home with people and things and activities I love. No apologies. I've had a stern talk with myself. I said, "Self, never again will you take what makes your own heart sing, and put it on a shelf in a misguided effort to help someone else's heart sing. They must find their own song, and they must learn to sing it."
2. Get outside.
"....and heaven and nature sing..." remember the old carol? Creation - nature - is God's means of soothing the human heart. Don't let the cold weather prevent you from getting outside, filling your bird feeders, taking a walk, surveying your winter landscape....just breathing in the chill air, appreciating the change in season. Embrace it.
3. Make something.
Pick just one or three projects you've always wanted to try (but never had time, because you were too busy being somewhere else all the time) and block out an afternoon or two and just do it. Arts and crafts are vastly underrated for their therapeutic benefits. Each and every year, I make a real-green wreath, all sorts of evergreen arrangements, cookies; this year, I am making hand painted ornaments, blocks for my grandbabies, holiday aprons, sugar scrubs for my girlfriends, and I plan to clove some oranges for a scented arrangement...and I am going to take glittered snowflakes, and hang them from bare branches in a large cachepot, as a winter arrangement I'll keep in my house until March 1st.
4. Read what inspires you. Self explanatory.
5. Selah. (in Hebrew, it means "pause and deeply consider").
Selah over what God is saying to your heart this season. Mull over the good news of grace. Ponder "peace on earth, and goodwill to men". Your God is in a good mood, friends, His anger was completely spent at the cross. Christ took the penalty and punishment for you, and for your children. This is crazy-good news. Reason to rejoice. Those swaddling clothes wrapped the baby Christ, He submitted to them, and then those graveclothes were removed once and for all in the tomb, as the Risen Christ came out of it victorious...for you.
Trust me, this gets dangerous when you begin to take the truth of it and apply it personally. Everyone is comfortable with the doctrine of grace, so long as it stays on the pages of the Bible...where it can't mess with their actual beliefs. Where it can't challenge their self sufficiency.
But Christ is all about incarnation. Those who preach the gospel must be incarnational about the truth of it. Let it invade.
These thoughts have totally transformed my experience of Advent for about four years now. Oh, my soul waits for Him, and in His word I do hope!