Operation Shoebox, the cookie exchange, Christmas cards, the office party, the Angel Tree, the Christmas pageant, the wrapping paper, the gift cards, did I forget the mailman?
To quote Andy Williams, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” And it is. I am a full-on Christmas loving girl. I have an entire day scheduled on my calendar as “Christmas Tree Day”. Yes, there will be cocoa. Yes, there will be candy canes. Yes, there will be a live tree selected from the farmer’s market. Yes, there will be Christmas music playing. And of course, there will be lights and ornaments and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles. Okay, I tend to get carried away, no schnitzel or noodles, but all the rest will be there, and then some.
I’m the girl who’s had my radio tuned to the Christmas Star (all Christmas music all the time) since November 1. I’m the girl whose favorite drink is a peppermint mocha, who memorized How The Grinch Stole Christmas and recited it in my college speech class, who sprinkles reindeer feed in our yard with the kids belting out “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” every Christmas Eve. Yes, that’s me.
But even with this Christmas lovefest, the lists and expectations that come with this glorious holiday can be EXHAUSTING. There are days when I shout in my head (and sometimes out loud), Enough! Enough programs and donations and things I need to cook for! Enough exchanges! I don’t have time! I don’t have time to make dinner and meet my deadline and shop for all of the cousins and go back to the store for another pound of butter and another jar of sprinkles! I also don’t have enough Scotch tape. Again.
I love each and every aspect of Christmas, but it’s just that it’s all crammed into such a short time period. Sometimes it feels not only daunting, but somewhat impossible to do it all and to do it all right. A friend of mine recently said, “This time of year makes me all jittery!” Anyone out there snapping your fingers or raising your hands or pulling out your hair in agreement?
Here’s the good news. Jesus knew what He called us to would be big. He says in Matthew 10:41, “This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.”
And Christmas time is big and beautiful and a large work. It is the time of year when millions of people all over the world decorate and party and exchange gifts and do food drives and help the needy all in celebration that God sent His only son to this world to teach us how to love. So no matter how many people are on our list, how many envelopes we need to seal, we are told not to be overwhelmed.
How can that be? How can I not get overwhelmed when I’m in charge of decorations for one event and snacks for another and was really hoping to get my hair cut before the new year?
Because, it’s important work.
“You feed them,” Jesus said to his disciples.
They said, “We couldn’t scrape up more than five loaves of bread and a couple of fish—unless, of course, you want us to go to town ourselves and buy food for everybody.” (There were more than five thousand people in the crowd.)
But Jesus went ahead and directed his disciples, “Sit them down in groups of about fifty.” They did what he said, and soon had everyone seated. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread and fish to the disciples to hand out to the crowd. After the people had all eaten their fill, twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up. Luke 9: 13-17
This is what Christmastime is like. A feast for a crowd that we’re not sure how we’re going to shop for or feed. It’s people who are in need, every day, all year long, but on this day, Jesus says to us, “You feed them.”
And so it is a beautiful opportunity for us to do His bidding—to drop coins in the Salvation Army box, to buy extra cans of food while we’re at the store, so when someone rings our doorbell, we have nutritious food to donate to someone who is hungry. When was the last time you were truly hungry? This is the chance to send cards to families and friends around the world reminding them that we think they’re special, that they’re worthy to make our list, of our time. This is the time of year people struck by poverty, walking around with ill-fitted shoes and no coats, can be blessed by our gifts of clothing to keep them warm. This is our annual opportunity to remind a teacher or a coach or the lady who delivers the Sunday paper that we really, truly appreciate all their work. We get to make a child smile, or remind our parents that we’re grateful, or tell a friend she’s something special.
Yes, it takes some shopping and wrapping and baking. But Amazon makes it easy to shop. And gift bags make it simple to wrap. Cook double batches of the things you love to eat, and take them to two events (plus there might be extra for treats at your house too).
This holiday, celebrating Jesus’ birthday, spreading love throughout the land, is very important to God, which means, He’ll help.
He’ll equip us to do the things that need to get done.
But what NEEDS to get done? That’s different for all of us. We each have gifts on our list that are really important for us to buy or make, special causes or projects that pull at our heartstrings, that one traditional dish that makes it feel like Christmas for us. Do those things. Do them well. And make the other things easier when you can. Don’t have time to address all of those envelopes? Send an e-card out to all of your contacts. Don’t have time to bake for the class party? Buy cookies from the grocery bakery with green and red frosting, or a tube of slice-and-bake shaped like Santas. The kids will love them. But if you love baking, then this is one you’ll want to take time for. Maybe where you can save time is by purchasing gift cards for any out of town gifts, and avoid all of the packaging and post office-ing. Don’t be afraid to say no to something, to wear the same dress as last year, or to use a picture from your summer vacation for your cards. But do hone in on the ways you can make a difference this Christmas season. And then do them well. Because it’s large work.
It is not effortless work. It’s big work. Sometimes it feels as overwhelming as feeding five thousand people with a couple of slices of Wonder Bread and a box of Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. We can’t do it alone. We scream, “Enough!” And we have the right word, but not the right meaning. Because our measly bread and fish sticks are enough, not on our own, but with Jesus, because He is more than enough. With Him it’s baskets and baskets of leftovers. And with Him, we can feed the hungry, warm the cold, bring hope to the hopeless, delight the ones we love, begin to change the world, and remind everyone we come in contact with that there is joy. All without being overwhelmed. Unless, of course, what we are overwhelmed with is wonder and awe.
Joy to the world. The Lord is come!
Laura L. Smith