Keep Christmas Sacred, Simple and Surprising

What if, instead of doing something, we were to
be something special?
Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised.

Loretta Ross-Gotta

Is Christmastime magical or overwhelming for you?

I think in a way, it was meant to be both.

How could God coming so near that he broke into our world through a girl's birth canal not be mind-blowing, heart re-arranging and soul-shaping?

A few days ago a supermoon appeared in the night sky. When I first saw it, it hung low and large in the dusky sky, full in its roundness, clear and bright.

A supermoon is a full moon in its closest orbit to the Earth. It is an oversized moon, fourteen percent bigger and thirty percent brighter than a normal moon.

I think Advent is a sort of supermoon.

Advent has something to do with an arrival, a coming, something appearing in a way it had not appeared before, closer. That something is actually Someone. That someone is Jesus.

Like waiting for anything that will change us, Advent is full of anticipation, wondering, longing, and groaning. Advent is the birth of a new thing.

When I was pregnant with each of our four Whippersnappers, my body swayed with a different center of gravity, my ligaments stretched and groaned under the weight of the child I carried. There was the weight of the baby, of course, but also the water, the placenta, the umbilical cord and the work of all of my inside systems to grow a child. (Maybe that extra cheesy pizza too!)

I certainly felt like a supermoon. The closer I got to giving birth, the harder it was to fully catch my breath. My organs had to be rearranged to make room. I didn’t gain a crazy amount of weight, but I did get bigger than I ever thought possible. Towards the end, there was often a hard foot in my ribcage. When the baby stretched or kicked, the force made me suddenly bolt upright.

I was full of that life that grew inside me.

Now that my children are having children, expectancy has taken on a new layer. You don't have to carry the baby yourself to feel there is rearranging to do. Our family is still making room for new life in surprising ways.

With each birth of each Wonder, I felt the ground move. I felt the earth’s tilt. It was like pushing the furniture in my heart back to the wall to make room for the Christmas tree, only this was a permanent tree.

Mike and I now have three grandbabies that I call the Wonders.

Our newest grandbaby is a girl named Dylan Rose. She was born a little sister to Crosby. If you follow me on social media, you may know him as the Blueberry.

When I woke up to the midnight text, “we are at the hospital”, I burst into tears - tears I did not know I was holding back. I had been waiting, too. I was anticipating a new life, one I had prayed for; one tiny girl, I could not wait to meet. A new life who would be at my house for Christmas.

The day after Thanksgiving, I hung twelve stockings on our stair rail. Everybody had to scooch over a tad to make room for the baby girl (and the fiancé). I had to start at the very first picket at the top and go all the way down the newel post at the bottom stair. That is one way we are literally making room for Dylan.

Everybody scoot over!

When the angel, Gabriel, told Mary she would carry God’s own Son, she ran to her cousin Elizabeth. When she said “Hello!” or “There you are!” or “Can you believe this?”, Elizabeth’s baby jumped inside her. The Message says he “skipped like a lamb for sheer joy”.

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Did you catch that? Elizabeth as the mama was changed. The one who carried the life inside her was transformed on the spot.

Her insides must have shifted, things must have rearranged and gotten shaken up in the movement; not only in her body but in her spirit and soul. The Holy Spirit filled her.

If we allow it, this is what could happen to us in Advent. We could be shaken up in the best way, re-arranged for mystery and close-up, personal relationship with our Savior.

That is what Jesus' arrival does; He creates space for life, room to grow.

To make room for Jesus to be with us, things inside must shift, rearrange, scooch over. We must push the furniture back to the wall making space for cartwheels, backflips, leaps of joy, surprise, and even some discomfort.

What matters is relationship, the being with.
We create holy ground
and give birth to Christ in our time not by doing,
but by believing and by loving the mysterious Infinite One who stirs within.
This requires trust that something of
great and saving importance is growing and kicking its heels in you.

Loretta Ross-Gotta

All of this creating space is to make room for love, for togetherness, for intimacy with God.

Part of making room for Jesus is to look at what is already in our Christmas and do some rearranging.

Christmas may have begun simply enough for us all. We followed a few traditions from our family that we loved or we tried to create our own as a new beginning. It is likely a merging of both responses.

Then we got married and added traditions from two families. Next, we had children and we wanted to bring them both the magic and the mulligans from our own childhoods.

Layers.

Add to that broken relationships whether that is a dysfunctional family of origin, our parents’ divorce, our own divorce or maybe the loss of someone we love. Soon we have a Christmas season whose meaning we cannot discern or pace we cannot sustain.

Soon, we find ourselves soldiering on trying every year to create the Christmas we want, starting earlier and earlier to get it all done. It is exhausting and heavy. I found after all of the layers of putting it up, I dreaded taking it all down.

Are you ready for something different?

Maybe like me, you are always trying to simplify the hustle and hurry of Christmas without sacrificing its deep and sacred meaning. This year, a new granddaughter and a wedding helped me to home in on a simpler Christmas.

Let’s get practical for just a moment. Let's look at what we might keep and what we might cross off of our Christmas list.

Grab an index card and let's write down a few things. On one side of the card, write down three things to keep this Christmas. Just three.

If you don't know where to begin, start with your to-do list and write down three essential things you have already done. Give yourself a break and credit for the things that are done!

Now for the cross-off part.

Before you say you could never do this, I know you have thought of it. In some fantasy moment, you thought, would it be great if I didn’t have to do ____________ at Christmastime.

What was it?

For a moment, everything is on the chopping block – stockings and their stuffers, lights on the house, a tree, Christmas cards, decorating every inch of your home, Christmas crafts, gingerbread houses, that Open House you always host, the Christmas parties, the teachers’ gifts, the breakfast casserole, Christmas dinner, the big baking day, the Christmas play, seeing Santa . . .

Are you exhausted just hearing the list?

Don't we just try and do too much?

Let's take a deep breath, all together.

Allow ideas to present themselves without judgment and write them down. Think of the thing that stresses you out the most and scribble that down.

On the other side of your index card, I want you to write down three things you can cross off of this year’s Christmas list. Do not try and figure out if you can pull it off, how big, small or crazy it seems, or if your family will freak out. You are just brainstorming possibilities.

Take a moment to jot down three possibilities.

This may make you uncomfortable. You may feel the pinch of surrender, but then a release. You will survive the letting go. Christmas will still arrive, maybe better than before when it was so crowded.

Now, write “2017” in the left-hand corner of your index card and “2018” on the right-hand side. Circle at least one or two things to take away this year. If you can do three, you’re on a roll. Leave some room to talk about your ideas with your family and consider some for next year. This is just a starting place.

You could also write "simplify", “get help”, “hire out” next to something and bring that into your family discussion.

I had wonderful conversations with each of our children about what they love most about our Christmas traditions and what they are ready to let go of.

I originally thought I might cross off stockings from my own list this year because the thought of twelve stockings and all the stuffers was alarming. But with a few questions to my family, we decided not only to keep the stockings but to add two more for the new hearts in our family.

Here is what I wrote down this year.

My three keepers:

• Stockings

• Nativity (+ stars)

• Lights on the house (hire out)

Three things I crossed off (at least this year):

Christmas cards

Ornaments on the tree

Cousin gift exchange

Next year might be completely different. Our children grow and change and our lives have seasons with different needs. Trust your heart. You know your family.

Tuck your scribbly card into your Bible and let it rest.

Then when it works, maybe in January when you take down your decorations, maybe next July when Christmas is far off, have conversations with your family about what can stay and what can go.

What are we doing here?

We are making room for the manger scene, for the sacred and the surprising. After all, Jesus was more than just a baby in a barn. He creates and holds all things together.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

When Jesus was born in a hay cradle on the outskirts of town, he wasn’t just any precious baby, He was the New Covenant, the Re-arranger, the Prince of Wholeness, the Tectonic Shift in how we relate to the Living God. He was with God in the beginning and once He was born a vulnerable baby, nothing would ever be the same for anyone.

God had come so near, as near as possible, right into a girl's womb, right into skin and bone and ligaments. Think about it.

He was attached to Mary by a life-giving umbilical cord, but He was the Life. He was hidden and being formed, yet He formed the universe.

I still cannot quite understand how close God came to us in Jesus. It is mysterious and hidden and every year it blows my mind a little more.

I want to leave room for God to challenge me with His love, for Jesus to surprise me with Himself.

That is all we are doing when we challenge ourselves to keep the sacred and cross-off the busy of Christmas.

We are trying to hold space even for our busted and broken parts.

So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.
Colossians 1:19-20 The Message

The Blueberry taught me something recently.

The Blueberry's real name is Crosby. He is two-and-a-half and full of precious things to say like,

“Jojo, you are my sunshine”.

I recently asked to hold Crosby’s hand going down the stairs. At the top of the stairs, he said to me,

”No Jojo, not my hand, hold my whole self.”

Don't you want Jesus to do that - to hold your whole self? But for Him to do that, we must give our whole self.

I find I usually want to avoid that kind of vulnerability. Let's do that a little differently this year.

Scribble down one more thing on this index card. On the cross-off side, write down a disappointment or a busted thing that you will leave in the manger with Jesus. It might be a relationship, a broken dream, a loss or disappointment. It might be one of your regrets in this life.

Draw a line through it and let Christ cover it.

That is my prayer for you - for your whole self to be held by all of Jesus. Don't miss how far he came to reach you. He was born on the outskirts of town in a Gentile barn to a ragged teenage girl, one that villages whispered about.

Let’s not just settle for a little Jesus on top of all of our previous busyness of Christmas.

Before we deck the halls, let’s clear the decks for the Savior of the world.

Have a sacred, simple and surprising Merry Christmas, y'all!

*This post is dedicated to the women of Riversgate Church who took time out to be together in a busy season and who lovingly trusted me with the message at our Christmas Breakfast.

I gave away my all-time favorite Sacred Ordinary Days Planner at our breakfast to one lucky winner. I thought I'd do one for you too.

For a chance to win a beautiful planner, comment below with one of your Christmas keepers or one thing you'll cross off this year. I will be drawing a name and announcing it on Instagram on December 15.