What will your Christmas be like this year? Will it be a nonstop, speed of light, spiritually-draining race? When you finally take down the Christmas tree, will you say to yourself, “Boy, am I glad that’s over”? Isn’t it sad that to feel that way about the holidays? And it’s even worse for Christians, who are celebrating the Savior’s birth.
A mother sat at the table wrapping the last of the presents. It was Christmas Eve; or, to be precise, Christmas morning. Christmas Eve had ended hours ago. Her husband lay on the sofa, where he had fallen asleep after assembling the remote control car. She looked at the clock and thought miserably that the kids would be up in just a few hours.
It had been a difficult season. Her mother, who lived in another part of the state, had been in and out of the hospital, and she had spent considerable time with her. Even so, she insisted on having her husband’s family to her home for Christmas dinner, as usual. It was a tradition. The decorations weren’t fully up until Christmas Eve day. And even at this late hour, there was still baking to do, but it would have to wait until morning.
She sent her husband to bed while she washed up. It was her habit to pray each evening, but she was so tired that she fell into bed and tried to pray lying down. Woolly-headed, she was unable to find anything to say, and so returned to something she knew by heart: the Lord’s Prayer. She started dozing after the very first line, but managed to fight her way through. By the time she got to the middle of the prayer, this is what she said: “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our Christmases, as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”
That may be a request many of us need to pray. “Forgive us, O Lord, our Christmases.” Forgive us for what we do to ourselves at Christmas. Forgive what we do to our families and friends.
We may also need to offer forgiveness to those who “Christmas against us.” Emotions run high around the holidays. Families divide their time between relatives and no one gets everything they want. People get strange, tempers get short and sometimes we get hurt. We need to “forgive those who Christmas against us.”
But the main reason to pray, “Forgive us our Christmases,” has to do with how we treat Jesus. Or fail to treat him. We remember the postman and the paperboy at Christmas, and yet forget Jesus, whose advent gave rise to our celebration! It is not enough for Jesus to be the reason for the season, he needs to be the object of our attention during the season. We need to include him in the celebration.
How do you do that? You can start by writing one name at the top of your Christmas gift-list: Jesus. After all, it is his birthday we’re celebrating. What can you give him this Christmas? If that is a new idea to you, start with something simple: write on your list, “Attend church on Christmas Eve.” That is a gift Jesus will love. Or maybe, “Read the Bible” or “Volunteer at the food pantry.” Do it as a gift to Jesus. If you have long been a friend of his, ask him what he would like for his birthday, and listen for his answer. He’ll let you know.
Next, ruthlessly eliminate the things that rob you of the spirit of joy. If that means eliminating people from your gift list, card list, and cookie list, do it. If you absolutely have to give certain people a gift or card or cookies, wait until February and do it then. They’ll love it.
Finally: Take a deep breath and slow down. Enter into Christmas with poise. Ask Jesus to come again, this time into your life, but be sure that you are collected enough to notice when he does. Most people in Bethlehem missed him the first time he came and, if you are not careful, you’ll do the same. Jesus can come to a person at any time, in the guise of someone in need or in the generous love of a friend. When he does, don’t miss him.