“Rejoice in the Savior always! I say it again: Rejoice! Let everyone see your forbearing spirit. Our Savior is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds; instead, present your needs to God through prayer and petition, giving thanks for all circumstances. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:4-7)
This is a perfect passage to read today as churches everywhere lift up the theme of joy on this third Sunday in Advent. Joy in the coming once again of the child who would bring so much light to the world.
And this passage is even more amazing when we realize that Paul is writing from a Roman prison where he was being held under a capital charge.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
Without the threat of prison, it should be even easier for us to rejoice. And, if you look at all the advertising messages during this Christmas season, we are clearly a very happy society. Surely all of our homes reflect the joy and love portrayed in the images. Perfect children and adults in matching pjs, happy, laughing, and smiling, as they exchange the perfect gifts in front of the perfect tree while sipping the perfect cup of coffee. Or the beautiful young couple who are in love, and exchange that something special with a kiss and a hug. The Christmas carolers are perfectly dressed and singing in four-part harmony while snow gently falls. Grandma and Grandpa show up at the door loaded down with presents and … wait for it… the cute puppy the grandkids wanted … and mom and dad are happy! (I offered to send a puppy to my nephew and my brother said he’d kill me).
Christmas always brings to mind Norman Rockwell’s paintings, ads and magazine covers. Snow falling on the quaint little town. The family all rosy-cheeked, laden with presents showing up at grandma and grandpa’s door. Grandpa and his grandson riding on an old-fashioned rocking horse. The cozy couple bundled up for the perfect horse-drawn sleigh ride. Kid’s asleep waiting for Santa. The smiling mailman carrying beautifully wrapped gifts while surrounded by a pack of kids.The little boy on his knees saying his prayers
Then there are the Thomas Kinkade paintings with the houses and church beautifully decked out and lit up for Christmas with the gentle snow falling (there is never a snowstorm in any of these, nor is it 50 degrees, gray and rainy). And, we can’t forget the magazines with all the beautifully decorated Christmas cookies, tables laden with beautiful decorations and food.
Sigh. I want all that. I want Paul’s joy, gratitude, and faith in the face of adversity, stress and struggle. I want the joy, love, harmony, innocence and magic of Norman Rockwell. I want the Thomas Kinkade beautifully decorated house and I want the Martha Stewart table! If I could just have all of this, my Christmas would be perfect, peaceful, holy! Yea, right.
But my holiday tends to look nothing like a Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade or Martha Stewart Christmas! And, when I read Paul’s passage to the Philippians this last week, my head changed it around and it sounded something like this:
God help me! I say it again: God help me! I’ve lost my forbearing spirit, but I won’t let anyone see me panic. The Savior is near! Anxiety seems to have taken over my mind and I can’t seem to dismiss it. But, still, I present all my needs to God through prayer and petition, giving thanks for (heavy sigh) all circumstances.
(I really did try…)
Thank you God… now God, please help me to find the perfect gift for Julie, because she wants an air compressor and I just can’t go there.
Thank you God… now God, please help me not to strangle the woman in front of me in line who has 8,000 coupons and is paying with a check.
Thank you God… now God, please help me… I have four batches of cookies to bake, chocolates and caramel to make, presents to get in the mail, cards to address without fail, 90 more papers to grade and three more services to prepare before I fade.
And now I fear I’m losing my mind, as I’m starting to think in Dr. Seuss rhyme!
Why am I not feeling the peace??? It said if I presented my needs to God and gave thanks I’d feel the peace??
Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kinkade? Ha! When I put Christmas lights on the house I found that half the strings were old, half were new and half were dead. So, the “icicles” hanging from our house are completely mismatched… old long white ones, new un-stretched white ones and then blue ones. Perfect (not).
I tried to make beautiful arrangements for our outside pots with evergreen branches and berries, but they look more like I just shoved a bunch of things in the dirt to try and hide the stalks of the summer plants that I couldn’t get out!
Martha Stewart? Ha! We frosted cookies and my (19-year-old) son turned a reindeer into a rabbit and made a yellow snowman (just wrong). Plus, I now have a huge crack in my favorite cookie mixing bowl, and I just about needed to go to the chiropractor because I couldn’t stand up straight.
As for families on Christmas Day… let’s just say we don’t have any who will meet us at the door with packages, smiles and singing.
So… let me tell you my advice to myself every Christmas time… “Kaye, lower your expectations.” It may as well be my mantra.
There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas. My head knows that… my heart, however, is an incurable romantic. So, we compromise… I do as much as I can, and then do my best to be happy about however it turns out.
I have lights on my house, even though they aren’t perfect.
I had fun trying to make arrangements in my planters, even if they don’t look like the ones at Stein’s or Mileager’s (or anywhere nice, really).
I don’t have family nearby to visit, but I have a beautiful spiritual community to be with on Christmas Eve, which is my most favorite holy, sacred time of the year. And I am so grateful to still have that.
Seriously, I am in awe of Paul. Paul reminds me that it is important to find time to rejoice simply on the presence of the Divine in my heart and my life. Everything else is nice, but it is the light within, that unquenchable light that keeps me going.