These are the author's speaking notes for a message she gave to a women's luncheon.
So glad to be here with you- Aren’t the tables beautiful? Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to transform this room into such a beautiful display.
Let me tell you about a story when my family and I experienced the simple blessing of Christmas; I was pregnant with Natalie, my second child, and I was determined she would be born early, as in before Christmas (her name means “Christmas child”). I didn’t even want to drive the hour and a half to Slidell or New Orleans where our parents lived. I had my babies pretty quickly.
My mom and my stepfather came to see us before Christmas day and brought some gifts for Sheree and for my husband and me. She also brought some puzzles that were hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law. Sheree unwrapped two stuffed toy bunnies and checked out her new puzzles (always such a bright little thing) and said, “Look at all my nice new toys!”
I pray that today we could all have that joy and be able to say, “Look at all my nice new toys! Isn’t the blessing of Christmas good?”
On Christmas Eve, sometimes we can’t help but envy our children the stars in their eyes, especially when our own eyes are dull with exhaustion. Christmas is so much simpler for a child. Can we open our tired, adult eyes to that same simplicity?
Unfortunately we have built up some awesome expectations by Christmas:
(Just look at the descriptions on magazines’ December issues)
I can’t even get a handle on all the superlatives.
Apparently magazine editors are very aware that our memories are faulty. We have had the most incredible Christmas issues several years ago and every year since.
Here are some actual examples of the Christmas Magazine siren song, from my 1992 collection: “Holiday Stress-Busters”, “Quick Gifts to Craft for Christmas”, “Make-Ahead Tips”, “630 Merry Ideas to Make Christmas Happier, Saner, More Meaningful”, and of course, “Drop 10 Pounds by Christmas.”
Isn’t this what we all want? A stress-free, merry, beautiful, delicious, organized and slender Christmas? Of course it is--so into our shopping basket jumps the Christmas Magazine.
The advertising industry definitely wants you to spend a lot of time, effort and especially money on your holiday preparations.
Consider your Christmas planning today.
If you are like me you have already been inundated for months (since September, at least, in some stores) with images of the perfect holiday. We have read magazine articles on how to trim the most beautiful tree, wrap the most adorable packages, and prepare the most delicious food, blah, blah.
There is no shortage of perfect holiday stories in literature or in Hollywood, either.
Who could forget the beautiful Christmas celebrations of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood in the Big Woods or on the Banks of Plum Creek?
Or Little Women with all the sweet daughters gathered around Marmee bestowing gifts of love on a much beloved mother?
Or the wonderful hearted Whos singing in the town square even after the Grinch had stolen all of their Christmas goodies? Dah hoo doray, dah hoo doray.. or whatever those words are…
Why is there such a proliferation of feel good stories at Christmas? Because there is a hungering in every heart for a perfect time of celebration. THERE IS A HUNGERING IN EVERY HEART FOR A CELEBRATION THAT HAS MEANING. WE ARE LOOKING FOR THE SIMPLE BLESSINGS OF CHRISTMAS.
We long for happy endings, winning teams, a great sale, and wonderful surprises. We cry with joy over at Hallmark commercials.
We all want something to cheer about and, if necessary, we go to great lengths to insure that we have something to cheer about each Christmas.
I work hard cleaning my house especially on Christmas Eve so the pictures we take on Christmas morning won’t show what my house usually looks like but what it looks like for company.
We are scrambling to have the perfect Martha Stewart Christmas.
For some of us, a perfect holiday extravaganza comes easily. For some of us, it is not so easy. Whether it comes with stress or not, it definitely come with extra work or expense.
Sometimes in all of our hustle and bustle, we get confused about the meaning of the celebration. We forget that the party is for someone special.
We are looking for ways to bring meaning into our celebrations but too often we buy into advertisers’ solutions.
A few months ago I went to a wedding.
It was a beautiful location—a balcony overlooking a luscious hillside. There was an abundance of flowers. The scent of roses growing on the hillside was wafting through the air. The weather was perfect, the gown was exquisite, and the food was scrumptious.
Now at this wedding, the bride and groom were obviously in love with each other. It was beautiful to see them together. But what if that was not the case: what if the bride didn’t love the groom? What if I told you that she didn’t even know him? Not in an arranged marriage kind of way but that all she was really wanting to do was to have a perfect ceremony with her closest friends and family and give them a party to remember?
Then why, you might ask, didn’t she just have a party? Why did she say it was a wedding?
Then you would have concluded, “That wedding had no meaning.”
That sort of reminds me about some of our Christmas celebrations. If we don’t know the One whose birthday we are celebrating then we might as well just call it a winter celebration.
Because we miss out on the simple blessings of Christmas… we have celebrations without meaning.
Think back with me to a favorite Christmas memory.
What made it so special?
Was it the gifts? Ex. Mr. Microphone tape recorder
I loved my Mr. Microphone tape recorder. I had a talk show on Christmas day as I walked around our living room and interviewed all the guests. Later, I recorded myself singing painful songs with the radio.
Was it the food? One word: Cranberries
Was it the decorations? Our most sacred decoration was never even put up in my memory: It was a large (door sized) Christmas tree shaped door hanging, filled with pine cones
Was it who came to celebrate with you?
EVEN THOUGH WE LONG FOR THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER, WE MISS OUT ON A CELEBRATION WITH MEANING. WE MISS THE SIMPLE BLESSING OF CHRISTMAS
The reality is that a lot of us have our parties without a thought to the bridegroom—without a thought to the Savior. We just want to have a beautiful time of celebrating with our family. But don’t forget what we are celebrating. It is not just the winter solstice. It is a celebration and thanksgiving of God giving us the very best gift we could ever have: the potential for a relationship with Him.
But all too often we miss that gift and we miss the simple blessing of Christmas: knowing and treasuring Jesus in your heart.
But the reality is that the Christmas magazine too often fuels my discontent. It gives me more ideas for glories we have planned and dreamed about—I mean… visions of sugarplums dancing in your head?
Oh we might get the look of the Southern Living dream house by our own talent or someone we hire but there is almost always something that goes awry. Like the year we had a fresh cut Christmas tree from a local tree farm. We brought it home with great smells and a little gift that was to hatch later. Our tree was the warm and cozy home of a nest of spiders. Let me assure you that sweet angel ornaments take on a whole new look when they are infested with baby spiders. At least they waited to hatch until after Christmas morning! There can be other disappointments: maybe a gift isn’t quite appreciated like we had hoped. Why oh why didn’t my husband like the tiny light for his sock drawer? These are the very minor disappointments. The Christmas season is certainly not exempt to great tragedies of illness and loss.
We often suffer from loneliness that can be a part of Christmas.
A friend who was single at the time told me that Christmas Eve more so than New Years’ Eve or Valentines’ Day was the hardest holiday to be alone.
Even if we aren’t alone, we have stress from too much to do. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t really have anything to do so I will be able to complete my Christmas to-do list easily”? Could you introduce her to me? I have some things to share.
The stress from all the holiday busyness leads some people to forego most of their old traditions altogether.
“Simplify Christmas” is a growing drumbeat that sounds in contrast to the buy more, do more, celebrate more.
(My Google search got 1,440,000 hits on “simplifying Christmas.”)
It is fine to simplify but sometimes I think we simplify out of frustration with our frantic lifestyle instead of from a desire to get more meaning into our holidays. Sometimes we simplify and still miss the simple blessing of Christmas.
Please note that even a simplified celebration could leave you empty as well an extravagant one: You will just have a smaller credit card bill in January. Even if you set your heart on small celebrations, there can easily be disappointment.
You could still have a Christmas without meaning.
You can simplify and still miss the blessing of Christmas
The bottom line is that regardless of how much we do or don’t do, how many gifts we buy, or how many hundreds of cards we send or not send: our heart preparations are the key to the holiday. Our heart is the key to the simple blessing of Christmas: the key to treasuring Jesus.
Proper preparation of our hearts moves us from self-preoccupation to humble expectations.
In the Old Testament, God directs the people of Israel very specifically about how they are to worship Him. He tells them exactly what kind of celebrations He wants them to have. The heart behind every celebration is acknowledging the Lord, thanking Him for His blessings in their lives, and being in a right relationship with Him. God isn’t opposed to big celebrations but in the Bible it is clear over and over, we are told that the most important thing is what is going on in your heart.
The heart is most important.
There is a hungering in all of our hearts for a perfect time of celebration.
Why have a party for Christmas?
Because this is the time to remember the most exciting event in history-
When God came down from heaven and became one of us
Let me introduce Him to you.
Many years ago, before the first stocking was hung or was even a thought, an angel appeared to a young woman named Mary. Now she lived in the Middle East and there were problems with that area with warring governments and terrorists’ threats even then. This angel told the young woman that she was going to have a baby. That surprised her because Mary was a virgin. Furthermore, this baby was going to be the Son of God and it was He who would save His people from their sins. He was the long awaited Messiah.
Just so you know God is not opposed to big celebrations, in the gospel of Luke, we read that an angel came and announced Jesus’ birth.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
The best thing about this blessing of the first Christmas was that Jesus wasn’t just born to be the center of our nativity sets at a really fun holiday in America. The angel told Mary this baby was born to be the Savior, the One who would save His people from their sins. That is really good news. But it has some bad news tucked in—The fact is the reason Jesus came is that the Bible says we are all sinners. We all have chosen to do our own thing and the Bible calls that sin. The even worse news is that what we earn because of our sin is death, or spiritual separation from God.
The whole reason for Christmas is God’s way of bridging the gap between Him and us. He provided the payment for our sin in the form of a tiny baby who would grow up to be a man, live a sinless life, then die on a cross as a payment for our sins. He took the penalty for us. After three days, He rose from the dead and is waiting for us today at the right hand of the Father. He wants us to know Him.
The very best news of all is that if we place our trust in Him as our Savior, He removes the consequences of our sins. We won’t be guilty any more. He gives us eternal life with Him.
Jesus wants us to celebrate that. In the book of John chapter 10, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Or as a friend of mine translates it “That they might have a party.”
What if there still remains the twinge of wanting a Martha Stewart Christmas?
Aren’t we all still buying and studying our Christmas magazines?
If producing the perfect Christmas look isn’t in your skill set or your budget then let it go. Be content with a few things and rejoice that you have less to put away after the holidays.
Focus on the simple blessings of Christmas.
Focus on the birth of the savior of the world; the coming of the King of Kings.
That kind of renewed mindset is not going to happen without a little effort.
I want to challenge you to add one more thing to your to do list. I want you to add thinking about how you can focus on the simple blessings of Christmas, how you can treasure Jesus in your heart.
Your table hostesses have a list of ideas that you could try and even add some of your own.
I want to leave you with a few practical ways to add meaning to your Christmas celebrations. They have been helpful to my family and me.
There are twelve Bible passages listed there. The story may be familiar to most of you but I’d like you to read them and ask yourself: How did the individuals in these verses respond to Jesus? Am I looking at Jesus with tired, adult eyes? How can I change how I respond to Him?
I would encourage you to put a few of these on your calendar and focus on the simple blessings of Christmas. Focus on a celebration with meaning.
Celebrate for the right reasons.
Celebrate because you know the bridegroom and He knows you.
Celebrate because you have entered into a perfect love relationship with the Creator of the universe.
Celebrate because you know the simple blessing of Christmas.
When Mary was confronted with the reality of who Jesus was and what that would mean for the world, the Bible says Mary did just what God wanted her to do: She treasured these things in her heart.
The simple blessing of Christmas is treasuring Jesus in your heart. Pondering the good news that you are so deeply loved by the Creator of the Universe that He sacrificed His only Son for you. He gave His Son so that you could have an abundant life with Him forever.
Treasure Jesus in your heart. Rejoice in knowing that He is the King, the Savior who has come into the world to set things right, come into the world to rescue us from the dominion of darkness. He has come to save you from a meaningless existence of self-service. He wants to be your king and bring you into His kingdom of marvelous light, life and love. What a celebration that will be when you join Him in His kingdom! What are you waiting for? Come on in and join the party. It is a big one.