Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Purpose of Christmas

I did not intend for this blog post to become a book review, but I just spent two hours reading the book by Rick Warren entitled, The Purpose of Christmas.  Rick Warren is the author of the #1 NY Times Bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.  This book, though an easy, quick-read, is quite meaty in substance.  It truly blessed and helped me refocus on the "reason for the season."  It also convicted and encouraged me on some personal issues with which I have been afflicted and searching for peace.  I highly recommend it, and though it is a crazy-busy time of year, it will be the best two hours you spend this month.  I've read several fast-reads such as this, and can honestly say that this one is the best of the best.  If you feel in any way that your life is lacking or void of anything on any level at all, read this book.  Even if you feel your life isn't measuring up to all you want it to be, at no blame to you--read this book!  As for the credibility of the author, Rick Warren was quoted as being one of Forbe's "100 Most Powerful," (and was the only one listed there who was characterized as, "trustworthy").  He was also named as one of Newsweek's "15 People Who Make America Great," one of Time's "100 Most Influential People in the World," and called one of, "America's 25 Best Leaders" in U.S. News & World Report.  So you can feel assured that reading it will be worthwhile, even if you don't trust my opinion.

I used to be one of those women who at Christmastime, was about as bound-up in nerves and anxiety as a girl can get.  My Christmas "do list" robbed me of nearly every joy of the season.  I would put immense pressure on myself to do so many unnecessary things that by the time the actual day rolled around, I was completely exhausted, grouchy, and void of any Christmas "spirit" or meaning (the perfectionist in me would trump better judgment).  I recall many painful moments spent sitting in church during the Christmas season asking God to forgive me for having such a lousy attitude during the celebration of His Son's birth.  I look back on that now and shudder.  Why could I not "get" it?  Why did I think I had to be the "wonder woman of Christmas" when all God ever expected or wanted of me at Christmastime was to acknowledge and celebrate His Son--to relish the free gift of salvation that He gave me in Him?  

The answer to that question is a simple one--societal pressure.  Our culture lays a standard of expectations on us at Christmas to which no one can meet (or at least, most can't).  Expectations of buying the perfect gifts (and plenty of them for people who need nothing to begin with), baking the perfect food (again, do any of us need to be eating ridiculously huge portions of rich, heavily-carbed, sugared food?), decorating the perfect tree and house, and the list goes on and on.  None of these things are expectations given by God, and when we place higher value and importance on them than we do on celebrating and recognizing the Savior's birthday, we end up empty and void of anything purposeful or meaningful at Christmastime.  I lived it personally for too many years.

Matt and I have had a busy month.  We began December attending his 100th Annual KLA Convention in Wichita (so I lost an entire week to prepare for Christmas right there).  Then we were both sick prior and afterward (so I lost some time there due to not feeling so well and playing "catch-up" from being down with illness).  Then, I spent five nights total (in rehearsals and shows) singing in my church's annual Live Music Christmas Light Show (which is very important to me and is really the only ministry I do at Christmas now).  Suffice it to say, we don't even have a tree up yet.  Am I concerned about this?  No, not one bit.  Would the Stephanie of say, five years ago have been okay with this?  No, not at all.  She would have been hyperventilating, making every one around her miserable, and certainly wouldn't have spent two hours reading some Christian Christmas book while sipping leisurely on coffee, as I did this morning.

So what has changed with me?  Some would say I have gotten old, unmotivated, and lazy.  Some might even characterize my lack of concern at being unprepared for Christmas (by the world's standards) as apathetic and complacent.  You could even suggest that I'm depressed or acting a scrooge.  But honestly, I don't think I've ever felt more peaceful, blessed, and relaxed in the month of December as I do this year.  I am simply sick and tired of being pushed into the mold of killing myself at Christmas.  I am tired of overspending, overexerting, and under-appreciating Christ.  I am tired of giving gifts to people who need nothing when there are children all over the world who are starving, homeless, shoeless, naked, and dying.  I am weary of feeling so empty due to being physically drained by the time the actual day of celebration arrives.  We women place too much emphasis on stuff that just doesn't matter at Christmas--stuff that is not eternal or necessary.  I hear it all the time--women complaining, stressing, and grieving over their "do lists" and the fact that they feel drained of any real Christmas joy.  Actually, I heard it come out of over 10 mouths just this past week, so I know I am not alone.  And all the undo stress we place upon ourselves (or that societal pressure places upon us), doesn't even scratch the surface of what is going on with most of us this time of year.  Many people have deeper issues during the holidays--things like dealing with family members who are not, "easy" to be around; prayer requests that we feel God just isn't hearing; personal struggles and battles on which we feel we'll never get a handle.  Our list of hopes and expectations is pretty high overall.  It is just a lot of stuff to face, and deep down we all have this Chevy Chase, "Christmas Vacation" mentality that we want the "perfect Christmas," which essentially means we want the perfect life.  This just sets us up for a guaranteed disappointment.  The truth is, Christmas isn't about us or anything in our current life--it is about Christ.  I think this is what has changed with me.  I finally "get it."  Christmas is about Christ.  I always knew this in my head, but my heart was not embracing that truth.  I was still failing to place Christ first at Christmas, and instead, would overload myself with the world's and other's expectations for me during the season (as well as, my own, which were the heaviest of all).  Then I'd pile on top of that, all my own personal desires and needs, hoping that this year would be "different."  I had a major rebellion and personal upheaval with this a few years ago--and it was a much-needed one. 

Rick Warren's meaty little book lays this all out so beautifully.  For the sake of time (yeah, yeah, I know, this is already really lengthy), the book talks about how there are really only three purposes for Christmas to solve our three greatest needs.  The first purpose is that it is a time for salvation--realizing our deep need to be saved from something, by Someone bigger than us, and for something meaningful.  The second purpose is that it is a time for reconciliation--between us and God (through Christ), and between us and others (even if that means we only get peace and reconciliation in our own hearts from God concerning the hurts, brokenness, and battles we have with others).  The third purpose is that it is a time for celebration--celebrating Christ, Who He is, and what He came to do for us.   Rick Warren discusses how if we fail to recognize, accept, and unwrap these three purposes for Christmas, these three indescribable gifts (2 Cor. 9:15), our Christmas will be a guaranteed colossal disappointment.  I couldn't agree more. 

I wish I could lay out all the notes I took as I read this book, but it would not only ruin the book for you, you'd be reading this blog post for half an hour at least!  Instead, I will just mention my favorite points and end with some Scriptures that Rick Warren cited that really blessed me.  I wish you all a very, Merry Christmas and a blessed time of salvation, reconciliation, and thus, celebration of the birth of our Only Hope and Lasting Gift--Jesus Christ.  Thanks to all my faithful readers who have taken the plunge with me in this blog this past five months.  I prayed a special blessing on each of you this morning, and I sincerely wish you all a richly blessed 2013.  I will not be posting until the New Year, as I need to focus on Christ and my family during the season.  But I hope you will continue to journey through life with me next year and I will do my best not to bore you...God bless you all!

Key Points and Scriptures on Rick Warren's, The Purpose of Christmas:

*Christmas is for SALVATION (by God, through Christ, from hell, and for a purpose)!
Luke 2:11, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."

Ephesians 2:8-10, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

*Christmas is for RECONCILIATION (between us and God, & us and others)! 
Luke 2:14, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests."
 
James 3:18, "Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness."

Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

2 Cor. 5:18, "All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation"... 

Proverbs 13:10, "Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice."

Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You."

*Christmas is for CELEBRATION (of the free gift and freedom given us by the CHRIST of CHRISTmas)!
Luke 2:10, "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'"

Psalms 118:21-24, "I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad."

John 8:36, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

2 Cor. 9:15, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"