Monday, December 15, 2014

"No Substitutes, please!" (The Holiday Edition)

Today was "Operation Christmas Shopping List." You know the drill! You get going with excitement, maybe a Christmas song on the radio and a little merry tune in your heart. Maybe you wear a little festive red and green jewelry or write your list on a pad of paper lined with snowflakes at the top. And you say to yourself with a contented sigh, "I just LOVE Christmas!" So this was me this morning.

But, as the day went on from store to store,  a little bit of my cheer was chipped away. It waned with every person that almost ran into me with their cart, every mean-hearted oaf that stole the parking spot I waited for (blinker on), every dollar that I thought about leaving my bank account as I calculated amounts I could spend on each person plus my bills that needed to be paid next week, and every jam packed check-out line of Santa's elves making their purchases.

The last straw was at my second-to-last store where the sales lady asked if I wanted a gift receipt. When I said "yes, please" she felt like it was her duty to inform me that she said GIFT RECEIPT and not just receipt, as if I hadn't heard her.  I said "Yes, gift receipt. May I have one for each item in my bag?" I said as sweetly as possible through my clenched two front teeth. 

Then, as if I stomped on her Christmas fruitcake, she huffily replied "Well, that is going to be kinda impossible because..blah blah blah blah and blah blah blah.." and all of a sudden the joy of Christmas escaped my heart and the Grinch-like ire made my face hot and compelled me to want to tell the lady that I hoped she received coal for Christmas and that all the needles on her Christmas tree fell off while she was at work. 

Tired, poorer, extremely hungry, and gift-receiptless, I drove home and continued to stew a little as I ate my salad, a healthy attempt to counter balance the 6 cookies I ate yesterday at the Christmas exchange. As I sat there, I thought "What really is the point of all if this?" Ugh! Scrooge and I could have been best complaining buddies today! 

Then, I decided, I needed to re-focus. So I read a few advent devotionals and verses to try to restore my Christmas merriness. John Piper and Sarah Young's advent devotionals basically both said the same thing and had the same affect of shattering my icy heart and making it "grow three sizes that day!" (for all you Grinch quoters out there!)

Both were talking about how our longing for more is so good and that the things on earth are to remind us of  Jesus, our rescuer,  who will take us to live with him one day in heaven to have life more abundant. And Christmas is a reminder and a foretaste of Jesus being with us, near us, rescuing us, restoring life, and calling us home to him.

“All other homecomings are foretastes. And foretastes are good. Unless they become substitutes. O, don’t let all the sweet things of this season become substitutes of the final great, all-satisfying Sweetness. Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven. Christmas. What is it but this: I came that they might have life.” John Piper
When I read the line "..unless they become substitutes…," I realized that was what I had been expecting for my day. That the substitutes would fill me and fuel the Christmas joy that really can only be found in Jesus and the life he brings. As I thought further about Christmas, these are some substitutes that I am now using to remind me of the Sweetness that comes through our savior. Maybe they will encourage you too:
  • Giving Christmas Presents--This is a reminder of Jesus being the greatest gift of all to us! The gift that brought joy unending, wealth irreplaceable, brought relationship reconciled between us and God. 
  • Spending Money on Presents--Is a reminder that God paid a high price for my relationship with him and Jesus, my Christmas gift, strengthened and formed my bond with the Father. And because of that, I can give to others with joy.
  • Hanging or Seeing Christmas Lights- Jesus is the light of the world. And the wisemen, angels, shepherds, and people from all tribes, tongues, languages, and people seek him to light the way, brighten their lives, deplete the darkness and bring light to life. Hanging them up is a reminder to me that we are to bring that light to others, and be a vessel for the beacon of hope offered by Jesus, the light of the world, to people around us.
  • Baking Christmas Cookies- Baking cookies can remind me of the sweetness of Jesus' word, the Bible, sweeter than honey, and so nice to share with others. Its also a reminder that our sustanance comes from the Lord, who gives our daily bread, and even more by giving us sweet treats along the way of life.
  • Christmas Parties-  How good and pleasant it is to be reconciled and have relationships with others. We need each other. Christmas parties are not to show off our newest holiday wreath or the height of our tree, but to remind our souls that I need community. I am not created to be a loner. It also reminds me that Jesus reconciled us to himself and welcomed us into his home. And in heaven, there will be great rejoicing! As the Jesus storybook Bible puts it, the angels will be festively caroling at this party, "singing a beautiful song: "Glory to God! To God be Fame and Honor and all of our Hoorays" 

So with that being said, Who cares about the gift receipt anyways?  After all, Once you receive Jesus, you never want to return him, nor can you return him!  He is the best Christmas joy and gift we could receive and the whole reason we celebrate this season. Many hoorays in his honor today! 

Hope today this gives you a little snap back to our real Joy and Hope and a reminder that these things are substitutes for what is really ours because Jesus was born so many years ago.

This Blog brought to you by the real sugar that I put into my coffee this morning. No substitutes today for me! Give me the real stuff!