Each Christmas our extended family of 30-some far-flung relatives draws names for gift giving. This year, however, instead of exchanging gifts, someone had the idea of asking each family member to write down a memory of a past Christmas and submit it to one of the cousins, who will compile all the entries into a book.
I was curious to see what my children's memories would be. Would it be lighting the advent candles at our table each week in December? Baking Christmas cookies with their mother? Singing "Silent Night" a cappella at our packed Christmas Eve service? Listening to Grandpa read the story of Jesus' birth as we gather around the tree?
The book isn't out yet, but my son, who's studying in Nebraska, copied me in his email to my cousin with his short essay called "Late Christmases." I had to squirm as I read his memories of Christmas in the Zetzsche household, full of words like "last-minute" and "frenzied": In his telling, last year's lights are yanked out of the attic the week before Christmas. We get the last viable tree from the Lion's Club lot. He and his father go on a shopping spree in Eugene on Christmas Eve. Though he wraps it all up by saying how he loves the frenetic ride followed by the relative peace of Christmas itself, it makes me wonder why we do what we do to ourselves during this holiday season.
Isn't it interesting that during this celebration of Jesus' birth, we often do exactly the opposite of what God intended us to do? When the angels came to announce the arrival of Jesus to the shepherds camped on a cold Galilean hillside, they didn't say: "All right, get ready, folks. Brace yourselves because it's about to get stressful! Here's what you need to do: Make a list. Spend more money than you can afford. Plan more parties this month than you have during the rest of the other months combined. Bake up a storm. Send a card to everyone you know with a personal note. Redecorate your house, inside and out. Buy a perfect present for everyone in your family, your office, and your circle of friends. This is going to be exhausting."
Nope, nothing of the sort. Instead, here's what the angels said in Luke 2:14: "Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." That's the entirety of the message—glory to God and peace on earth.
God didn't tell us to buy and give and light up and overeat and decorate trees to celebrate his son's birthday. Look as hard as you want, but you won't find that anywhere in the Bible. Most of what we run around doing this time of year is purely tradition. It doesn't mean it's bad—it's just not essential.
What would Christmas look like if we re-centered around that angelic message of glory and peace? There might be fewer light-up Santa yard displays—unless that's what brings us joy. Maybe we'd make fewer to-do lists. We'd certainly spend less money on items our family members don't really need. And we could cut holiday obligations out of our schedules with a clear conscience, focusing instead on bringing glory to God and experiencing his peace.
As you're clearing your calendar, consider re-centering on the angels' message by joining any of our community's Christmas Eve services. We'll light the candles, sing the carols, and intentionally exhale into God's peace.
The Reedsport Church of God is holding three identical Candlelight Christmas Eve services this year on Sunday, Dec. 24 at 9:30 a.m, 4:30 p.m, and 6 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
Kristen Zetzsche works as the associate pastor at the Reedsport Church of God. Phone: 541-271-3928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.