One of my favorite Christmas traditions is the exchange of Christmas letters. Yes, it is a bit ironic because I so rarely send one. However, I love reading the letters from my family members and friends. The tradition seems to be less and less common these days. Each year I get fewer paper letters, although I receive more and more electronic versions. Regardless of the form, I love hearing the stories about what has happened over the past year. Usually there are updated pictures of the family and a short hand-written note saying “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!”
The reason I like these so much is because of the reflection that is necessary to write such a letter. We take time to pause and consider what has happened over the past year. We express joy about the birth of babies. We celebrate marriages and graduations. We express grief over family members who have passed on. We reflect on job changes and moving to new cities. And for many letter writers, there is some expression of how much God has done for us over the past year. That is the part that brings me the most encouragement – this reminder of what God has done.
The Christmas season is a good time to look back at the previous year. We remember what God has brought us through over the past year. Sometimes it is hard to see that from day-to-day, yet thinking back over the course of a year we can see the valleys that we’ve walked through and mountains that we’ve climbed. We can appreciate and give thanks for God’s faithfulness over time. We also give thanks that God came to our mess, to our place of brokenness – God in the flesh, Immanuel with us.
It is also a good time to look forward. We look forward to the completion of the work Christ started. We don’t know when that will be, but we yearn for that day. While none of us knows what tomorrow will bring, we can put ourselves on a course to build a better future. Our actions today shouldn’t be haphazard or unplanned. There is no need to stress about the past or fuss about the future for we live in this moment right now. The past is history, the future is uncertain, so we must focus on this moment today, right now. Be present in this moment. Breathe this air. Take in the sights as they are.
The Gospel of Luke tells a story about Jesus visiting a lady named Martha and her sister, Mary. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to all he had to say. Martha was preparing a meal and began to feel aggravated that her sister wasn’t helping. She was doing “work for the Lord” (my paraphrase). What is more noble than “work for the Lord”? Martha complained to Jesus about her sister not helping. And Jesus’ reply has stopped us in our tracks for 2,000 years. “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Is it possible that we get so wrapped up in our own version of doing “work for the Lord” that we have missed the Lord altogether? I’m not suggesting that we become immobilized fixtures that never serve others or the Lord. Quite the opposite actually – those that follow Christ should be known by the love we have for one another and by demonstrations of the love that Christ has lavished on us. Yet in our busyness, like Martha, all of us have a capacity to miss what really matters. Like Mary, we need to spend some time at the feet of Jesus, enjoying his presence and listening to his voice. Isn’t that what we celebrate at Christmas? God the Son, Immanuel, Christ present with us. We would do well to be present with Christ and to remember all he has done for us.
If your holidays are filled with family and friends, enjoy the noise and the chaos – it is a blessing! If your holidays are much more quiet, take a deep breath and enjoy the peace that the Lord has provided. Either way, take time to remember what the Lord has done, enjoy this present moment, and look forward to what Christ has promised to complete.
This was also published in The Sheridan Press on December 23, 2022.