#unrushedchristmas

Let’s make this a THING! I have spotted FaceBook posts of families doing intentional, thoughtful things this season that aim to slow down the crazy roll we find ourselves on as Christmas approaches. The posts are marked #unrushedchristmas. One family posted pictures of a visit to a local restaurant that has massive outdoor decorations. They took their time looking at each one, and the children did a little dancing to the outdoor Christmas music that was playing on the loudspeakers. Another mom posted that she grabbed a cup of coffee and drove down our beach road to look at decorations rather than travel our busy and business-packed bypass. #unrushedchristmas is a movement aimed at creating mindfulness in each day of Advent so that we don’t arrive at Christmas exhausted and resentful.

What a supremely marvelous idea!

It occurs to me as I read these accounts that being unrushed in this season pays homage to the first Christmas, where nothing was or could be rushed. Think about the journey Mary and Joseph found themselves taking. Because a census was being conducted, they had to travel back to their hometown of Bethlehem, on a donkey and on foot. You don’t go anywhere fast with those modes of transportation.

Luke 2 (The Message)

1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

To put this into context, the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is almost 100 miles. At a good pace, that would be about 10 days of walking, and remember, Mary was just about ready to give birth. Nothing happened fast that first Christmas.

Neither should it today.

How can you slow down, take a deep breath, and breathe in all the glory, wonder, and majesty of the season? What can you do TODAY to unrush your rushing around? What can you let go of, simplify, or release, so that the season takes on a more humane pace?

I suppose the real question is, do you really need all that perfection?

Everyone longs for the perfect Christmas, the perfect tree, the perfect table setting, the perfect dinner, and the perfect gift. And we should know better. These things do not exist, yet every year we frantically pursue the perfect Christmas like it’s our JOB.

Stop.

Think.

Simplify.

Worship.

Adore.

Breathe.

Unrush yourself, and join in the awe and wonder of the miracle.

If it helps, imagine yourself walking almost 100 miles to get to Christmas. No matter how fast or slow you go, it will still be there. Christmas comes, whether we think we are ready for it or not. So sloooooow down and be mindful. Stop trying to create the perfect Christmas. Slow down and sit at the manger for a moment. Jesus deserves our full attention for his birthday.

Be #unrushed.

Photo by Meredith Koebley Snider

http://www.meredithksnider.com/

Missing Angel

Our church secretary walked into the office holding a large wooden angel. She had been helping pre-school parents park for our Christmas program when a women drove by and stopped to pull the angel out of her trunk. “I drive by your church every day and I noticed your nativity scene didn’t have an angel. I had this in my garage and I don’t need it, so I thought I would bring it here.”

First, who keeps random angels in their garage? And second, who doesn’t need an angel? But we are grateful for the much needed addition to our little corner nativity scene. I personally think she will fit right into the place.

The angel at the original nativity scene also came as a surprise to everyone.

Luke 2:8-20 New International Version (NIV)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

You betcha they were terrified. Wouldn’t you be? Having an otherworldly being suddenly descend from the skies and blinding you with all of its blazing luminescence would be a frightening thing indeed. I can’t figure out how they just didn’t run for the hills.

And then, she spoke:

 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Good news! Great joy! A savior is born! The long awaited Messiah has come! And he is the LORD. Her announcement introduced tremendous change, but it came with the assurance that this change would be good.

But did you catch the very first thing she said? “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”

As a matter of fact, angels offer the instruction “fear not” 58 times in the Old and New Testaments. It seems that every time they appeared, that was the first part of their message.

It was a message for then, and is a message for now. I believe there is a lot of fear and anxiety in our nation and in the world today. We fear many things: the effects of climate change on our planet, immigrants overrunning borders, guns, disease, gangs, our children’s futures, terrorism, vaccinations…one look around you and you will find something that has people terrified. And there are forces in the world that seem to exist only to perpetuate those fears.

Life involves a certain amount of fear because life involves a certain amount of change. And change is always a scary thing. A new job, a lost job, a pregnancy, a divorce, a biopsy, a diagnosis…change invokes fear. These things usually turn out to be alright in the end, but in the beginning, it is good to remember what the angels told us: do not be afraid.

The angels came to remind us that God is here. Whatever you are facing, whatever change is coming, whatever tragedy has befallen you, whatever disappointment you are experiencing, DO NOT BE AFRAID, for God is with you.

The shepherds learned that. They were the first to set aside their fears so that they could experience the incarnate God as he lay cooing in the manger. They heeded the command of the angel and thus experienced the presence of God in the flesh.

Where is God calling you to set aside your fears so that you can see his glory? Where are the angel’s words trying to take root in your heart so that you can move boldly into the change that God is preparing for you? How will you respond to his imminent presence?

In spite of all the anxiety and fear around us, let us worship this child as the Savior he was born to be. Let us resist those who would promote fear as a means of control, and realize that we are surrounded by a heavenly host that proclaims the power of God over all other powers on earth. Let us not resist change, but embrace it with the confidence of the children of God.

And most of all, let us be not afraid.

An angel holding an Angel.

Please Unwrap Before Christmas

On November 1st, a friend of mine posted on FaceBook that she had completed all of her Christmas shopping and had wrapped every single present. Then on the Thanksgiving morning she posted a picture of said wrapped presents under a perfectly decorated Christmas tree, all plugged in and tinseled out, ready to go. So you know what I did? I BLOCKED her. I mean, really, who needs friends like that??

But seriously, the tradition of wrapping presents is a curious one. Everyone has a different philosophy of wrapping. My beloved mother-in-law was an excellent gift wrapper. She measured everything, used her ruler to make perfect cut lines, tucked all the corners under in perfect envelope-shapes, and matched her seams with precision. Then the tag and the bow were carefully chosen to match. The wrapping was a gift itself. Me, not so much. When gift bags became popular, I rejoiced. I use them without apology. And you’re lucky if it has matching tissue paper. Or any tissue paper.

Of course so much of the fun of Christmas is trying to guess what is under the colorful wrapping. People will pick up presents, shake them, smell them, and spend days (or in my friend’s case, MONTHS) wondering what the wrapping contains.

Jesus was said to be “wrapped in swaddling cloths” when the shepherds came to see him. They probably also wondered what the wrapping contained.

Luke 2:8-12 New King James Version (NKJV)

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

It was common practice in that time to wrap a newborn in strips of cloth. As any good NICU nurse will tell you, swaddling (done now with a blanket) is still a good practice. It restricts the sudden, jerky reflex that newborns have when they are startled and keeps baby warm and feeling secure. In many ways, swaddling replicates the safety and comfort of the womb.

Jesus, like any other baby, was swaddled. His Christmas wrapping was a gift from his parents, who understood the magnitude of the gift they were wrapping up. Even the shepherds understood that they were experiencing something otherworldly and extraordinary, and they instantly knelt in worship.

It can take a lifetime to unwrap the gift of Jesus. It will take a lifetime of study, prayer, worship, and service to fully realize what we have received. Christmas is an invitation to peek under the wrapping and see what you can see. Do you see what I see? There you will find the Word of God, ready to be held, read, and cherished.

And one last thought…Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth at both his birth and his burial.

John 19 (NIV)

40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

And so Jesus’ Christmas wrapping is a reminder that he indeed was born to die…so that you might live. That is the greatest gift you will ever receive.

So open this gift with joy. Open it with a solemn understanding of what you’ve been given. Open it with great abandonment. Open, and receive eternity in all of its glory.

Beautiful Wrappings by Gail Driver