I was feeling guilty I wasn't saving the world at Christmas time.
With gift giving and eating in equal measure, my worship seemed paltry and any hymn singing had faded to inaudibility. There simply wasn't time for it.
I guess I wasn't saving Christmas either. The way it was supposed to be saved, anyway.
There had to be more to Christmas than self-indulgence, more than blind response to commercialism. But there was no way I could fit any more "giving" into the picture. With heroic buying and baking, wrapping and delivering, and cleaning--all those seasonal exercises I threw myself into, and not just for my very large immediate family, but for all those I wanted to show appreciation, how was I suppose to take care of all the others--the people that wouldn't celebrate as I would? How was I supposed to reach the homeless on the corner when I had so many other humans to care for?
I felt so guilty.
And this, then, became the holiday version of a persistent nagging burden that kept me up some nights. Are you with me? We're wired to help one another, to take on each other's burdens. Common sufferings draw us closer together, cause us to respond in crisis. They create in us an opportunity to operate within the love of God and to see him in action. How, then, could I sleep knowing there was so much work to be done in the world?
I was feeling insufficient, unworthy of the season. I wasn't doing my part to save the world!
Until God told me to knock it off.
Because he doesn't need me to do one single thing.
He wants me to want to SOME things. And to understand the parameters he has set for me within the time he has given me. He wants me to say, "yes" to the things best for all and "no" to the things that keep me from each good "yes".
So he gives me ideas, presents me with opportunities, and he is honored each time I respond in demonstration of the faith I have. He wants me to operate in faith in action in the world.
He also wants to bless me.
Especially at Christmas time. And when I am in receipt of those blessings, he wants me to be grateful and enjoy them. Time with my great, big family, plenty of food and laughter in equal measure. A warm fire and a soft place to lay our heads at night. Eggnog made following my grandmother's recipe. My mother's yummy fudge. The cinnamon rolls I make each Christmas morning. And all the hot coffee to wash these treats down with.
And yet, I'm feeling guilty again when I think about all that sugar.
Guilt, however, is not a part of God's vocabulary.
Sacrifice is. Which is why we should make every effort to do so, under God's direction. (While also enjoying a few things in moderation.) Perhaps it's as simple as taking a day to work at a local Christmas store for the underprivileged. Scheduling a day to give blood. Baking cookies for your postal carrier. Leaving a gift card for the guy that picks up your trash. Or even buying coffee for the car behind you in the drive-through line at Starbucks.
I work a couple of days a week, with three of my girls, as a barista at our local Starbucks. Early last Sunday morning, a customer at the window paid for every order waiting in the drive-through line. There were six vehicles behind him and the order total for the first one came to over $27 alone. He was quite happy about it!
One day, I'd like to hit the streets with hot chocolate for the homeless on Christmas morning, or hand out warm cinnamon rolls for the folks under the bridge. (Maybe a few things without so much sugar too.) Sacrifice for others should feel good. And we should be zealous for it. Francis Chan, in his book Crazy Love, says, "When you're wildly in love with someone, it changes everything."
I agree. You can't be wildly in love with God and not be in love with his people. Or respond in sacrifice to one degree or another. That's what Christmas is supposed to be all about.
But I also know it doesn't have to look like deprivation. Sometimes, it can look like a little effort in the midst of a life lived to the fullest for the glory of God. I had to remind myself of this frequently, when I was homeschooling and raising kids to be good humans. When I was milking goats and caring for a farm while leading Sunday school classes. When there was a lot of baking going on, all throughout the year. There are seasons when caring for family members and God's creatures is absolutely enough.
I don't need to save the world but I can work to respond to those sacrifices God has called me to make. The world may keep me up at night, but I can't react to all its woes. Only God can. He's already saved the world with his Son, Jesus. What I can do is to trust him through the process and in spite of what I don't understand.
And I can pray. All the time.
I can save Christmas by keeping it in perspective and respecting it for what it is supposed to be: a celebration of the birth of the One who came to save the world!
I can do my small part, one grateful act at a time, while enjoying the gifts given me by a loving God, and that includes setting time aside for prayer, worship, and Christmas caroling--singing glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill!
And maybe, just maybe, when I do, I'll be adding something to a world that may be unaware or forgetful it has already been saved for such a time as it wants to accept grace in favor of guilt.
"...Give liberally and ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake." Deuteronomy 15:10-11