Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Update: Hope

We have started studying Luke in my Sunday School Adult Bible Study class at church.  So today we talked about Christmas, since part of the Christmas story from the Bible is told in the first two chapters of Luke.

I love Christmas.  I love Christmas so much that I don't like confining to one day out of the year.  In fact, I don't even like confining it to one week or one month out of the year.  I don't even like confining it to a season.  My brother has a birthday in mid December, so my mom always delayed putting up Christmas decorations until AFTER his birthday.  I understand that she did this to keep my brother's birthday as separate from Christmas as possible, but it drove me nuts (still does).  For me, it's okay to start celebrating Christmas in late August or early September.  That's when we start working on Christmas music for the choir at my church.  So it's not uncommon for me to start listening to Christmas music in September--even stuff that's not related to the music we're singing in choir.  I try to keep it toned down a little since (for SOME reason) a lot of people seem to think that you can't celebrate Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  What's THAT about?  Thanksgiving is PART of Christmas.  So is Halloween.  So is all of fall.  It all leads up to Christmas.  It's like a whole wonderful time of the year when stores are filled with candy corn, cranberry sauce, and Christmas lights. 

I love it.  To some extent, I even love the commercialism--which seems strange, but let me try to explain that.   I don't like the whole idea that everyone needs to spend exorbitant amounts of money on tons of gifts that people don't really need.  I don't like the idea of wastefulness--because let's face it, your kids will live if they don't get the latest new toy.  Your grandma will live if you don't get her a new pair of isotoner slippers.  Aunt Bertha doesn't need another Cracker Barrel gift card.  There is a lot of silliness that comes with the "Christmas season" that kind of irks me.  BUT I like the busyness that comes as a result of people going out to buy presents, and I do think it's possible for people to give presents without being wasteful.  Christmas is a time to say "I love you" with gifts, and no, there's not really any clear mandate in Scripture for that.  We can try to justify it all by saying, "Oh, but the wise men gave gifts to Jesus," or even "God gave Jesus to the world."  Really, there's no Scriptural reason for Christmas to be a time to give presents.  I just don't think there's anything wrong with sharing gifts with someone you love.  I do think it's unnecessary to give/receive HUGE presents that put people into debt, but it's the little things that make me tremendously happy--both giving and receiving them.  I like making cookies and chocolate-dipped pretzels and giving them to families who mean a lot to me.  I like saying "Thank you" to people who have supported or helped me by knitting them a scarf (the only thing I'm really good at knitting--because I knit like I play the guitar...I can fool people who don't know anything about it into thinking I'm good at it).  And yes, I like getting unexpected surprises, tokens of love and appreciation, from others.  It's part of the "magic" of the season, the shared love in the form of gifts.  But that's not even close to being the main reason why I love Christmas.

So what is the main reason why I love Christmas?  Is it the music?  Is it the food?  Is it the weather (I actually hate cold and snow, unless it's at Christmas!)?  Is it the movies?  Is it something I inherited from my grandmother, who LOVED Christmas and celebrated it all year long? 

What's the Sunday School answer here?  What am I supposed to say?  I'm supposed to say, "I love Christmas because it's Jesus' birthday!"  But...that's not the main reason why I love Christmas.  Why?  I guess it's because I'm selfish.

When I was about four years old, my mom told me something I never forgot.  She probably doesn't even remember saying this, but I remember it vividly.  I was unwrapping Christmas presents at my grandparents' house on Christmas afternoon.  I'd already gotten the "Santa haul" from home, and now it was time to get the "relatives' haul."  I remember the scene very clearly.  I was sitting on the floor by the ottoman of the chair by the sliding glass door that overlooked the front porch.  One or two of their seventy bazgillion feral cats (they lived out in the country) were probably out on that porch, looking through that door at me, trying to soak in some of the indoor warmth through the glass.  I had just opened my last present, and was surrounded by boxes, toys, wrapping paper, and the comic strips my aunt used to wrap presents in.  And I turned to my mom and said something.  I don't remember what I said, but her response was unforgettable.  I was either complaining about how I didn't have any more presents or bragging about how much I'd gotten or something like that, and my mom said something profound.  She said, "Ruth, the older you get, the more you're going to want to give things than get things."

I remember that so clearly because it was impossible for my four year old brain to understand that logic.  What?  How could I EVER be happier giving than getting?  Getting stuff is AWESOME; giving stuff means I'll...have to sacrifice.  Sacrifice doesn't make sense to most four year olds.  In fact, it doesn't make much sense to most adults, either. 

And maybe I should be ashamed of myself for admitting this, but my favorite part about Christmas is still NOT about what I give.  It's still about what I get.  The difference between the four year old me and the thirty-one year old me is that I'm no longer so tremendously excited about getting stuff.  The most important part of Christmas is that God gave Himself to me.  And I guess that does make me selfish, but the fact is, I need to be selfish, here.  I need God.  I don't always understand sacrifice, but God understands it well.  Giving, love, sacrifice, mercy--that's kind of what He's about.  So I do get excited about receiving Him, all the while praising Him for being the holy and righteous Giver, both just and merciful.  It takes a certain degree of humility to realize that we don't really have anything to give.  We can't be the Giver.  But there can be so much joy in taking what we're offered, and God offers what we need.  And Christmas is the celebration of the culmination of all the promises of God, which came in the form of a weak, human baby.  No...I don't really think I understand the concept of sacrifice at all.

And for the past several Christmases, I've been focusing on words associated with Christmas.  It's been a different word every year.  Last year, it was Peace.  The year before, it was Joy.  The year before that, it was Star.  And I know this is weird for some people since it's so early in the year, but I already have a theme word for this upcoming Christmas.  And that word is Hope.

I have nothing.  I am nothing.  God changed that forever with the gift of Himself, which is why someone as hopeless and helpless as I am can have such great and unfailing Hope.

I've said all of this because I'm about to start my new routine.  I've got a day off for Labor Day tomorrow.  Within reason, I can do pretty much whatever I want to do tomorrow.  But come Tuesday, I start preschool.  I start a regular weekly work schedule (and filling in gaps where I can) with the drop-in childcare centers where I work.  I will continue to watch the girls two-three afternoons a week.  I'm also going to make regular time to edit my writing (not starting any new projects at the moment because that's not going to help me become a published writer--I gotta focus more on editing and preparing queries).  So for me, the fall is about to begin, and the only reason for fall to begin is that fall will eventually lead to Christmas.  Sorry, that's just how I think.  Calendar wise, everything eventually leads back to Christmas.

But as this summer has ended and this new season has begun, I've already started feeling this strong sense of hopefulness.  I know that feelings aren't always reliable, but sometimes there's a sense of something that just can't be shaken.  I'm expectant without even really knowing what to expect--just that something good, possibly life-changing, is coming if I'll work and wait for it, something that's coming soon in the advent of this new fall routine.  And I'm learning that because of the "upper-case H" Hope I have in Christ, it's okay to "lowercase h" hope for smaller things.  If I'm disappointed in something I've hoped for, that's okay.  It's okay because the greatest Hope I'll ever have won't disappoint.  No matter what happens to me, I am still God's, and He is still mine.  Oh, I love Christmas!  Lol!

So I'm entering this fall/Christmas season with my head lifted up.  I don't know what I'm looking for, but I'm looking.  I still have a feeling whatever happens will take me by happy surprise.  That's usually how it works. 

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