December 22, 2022

Be Present This Christmas

It started yesterday morning during my devotional time. Then, our family watched a movie with the same theme. It came again this morning as I read Matthew’s account on the birth of Jesus.

It was this thought: be present this Christmas.

It just keeps coming up all week. I found myself even praying yesterday for me, my family, and our church family – Lord give us grace to be present this Christmas.

I believe there are reasons the Holy Spirit keeps bringing it to my mind. It is so easy for me to get distracted and lose sight of what is going on around me, in me and in the lives of those I hold dear. I can move fast through each day and before I realize it, a week has turned into a month and a month into a season and before I know it, it is Christmas week!

In the words of the poet laureate of my generation, Ferris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t slow down every once in a while, you could miss it.”

I know it is just a movie quote from the 80’s but still it is truth. Life does move fast, and life has been moving fast.

Do you remember the shut down and how we were all forced to stop and slow down and be in the moment. Families ate together again because we could not go out.

For our family, we even found board games again. People were not running around to get to the next meeting, event, or game because there were none. We had to slow down and be in the moment.

Now, believe me, I am not at all wanting to go back to quarantine or shutdowns.

Nor am I advocating for them.

But the lessons from them, are soon forgotten. The promises we made – we will make time for this once everything gets going again. We will slow down and enjoy the moments. But life happens. I am not throwing stones at anyone; I am the worst offender.

That is why this thought of being present this Christmas has been ringing in my head and heart over the last few days. For one, this is the first week since, we will just say a long time that I am not running and going from one thing the next and I have had time to slow my pace.

I know I am not the lone ranger so again, I am not looking for sympathy. But the pace of life is just part of the reason I am ciphering on this thought. It goes deeper, it goes back to the past two Christmas our family has walked through.

They have been anything but normal. I am not complaining or looking for pity, I promise. I know we are not alone, and I also know how blessed I am by God’s grace and goodness. But the fact remains, there has been nothing slow or normal about Christmas for us the last two years.

Two years ago, I spent Christmas week in the hospital in isolation and away from my family with Covid Pneumonia. Then last year, two weeks before Christmas, Courtney’s sister Kelly almost died from an infection in her leg that required two surgeries and she barely got to come home the day before Christmas Eve.

By God’s grace, we both came out and are doing well and I thank God for His healing, provision, and touch on both of us and our families. Truly, God has been good to our family in the midst of it all.

One of the takeaways for me after missing Christmas in 2020 was that I took every moment in. I knew I almost died, and I did not want to waste one second. Just a car ride to Ingles became an adventure. Being around the table with my family for supper would move me to tears of gratitude.

I was like a kid on Christmas morning after seeing all the gifts under the tree, overwhelmed. I promised myself that I would not go back, and I would always be present and grateful for the big and small times in my life.

But life happens and I forgot the lessons I had learned. Do you know what I am talking about at all?

What about you? How has your year been? What has been your pace? What things have happened that may have caused you to lose focus? Do you find yourself like the Alabama song, in a hurry and don't know why?

With that in mind, when is the last time you stopped and enjoyed a moment with a friend or loved one. What about in this Christmas season, have you been able to pause and take in the moments around you? Again, no judgment and sorry for the questions, just wanted to give you a moment to cipher some.

During Christmas, we should make times for pausing and praising but often we feel more stressed than blessed. With the running to events, parties, church ministry and activities and even family gatherings, life can get away from us and feel like a blur.

We feel like we are part of the cast of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. Desperately wanting it to be the perfect season, but feeling like we are missing the mark.

I have given thought today to what it could have been that very first Christmas. Wow what chaos right?

The little town of Bethlehem was jam packed with people, so much so that Mary and Joseph could not even find a place to sleep much less have a baby. Then, they did find a manger and got Mary ready to give birth. And even in a sterile hospital room, those moments are no silent nights if you know what I mean.

Finally, Jesus is born. There is the care and concern for this new child. He had to be cleaned, held safe and even fed. Joseph, the nervous husband is running around making sure both mama and baby were taken care of all the while knowing they still had to have money for the taxes they had come to town to pay. See, we are not the only ones with chaos and worrying about money at Christmas.

Just as things begin to settle in for the night, here comes all the shepherds and I just guess after what they had seen, they were not quiet. What a scene for sure. We think our family Christmas is crowded and full, try a small stable full to capacity with animals, shepherds and O yes, a newborn baby.

Can you see the scene in your mind. How could one take it in and make sure to be present. For me, it would have been ADD overload with the sights and sounds. Plus, if it happened today, I would have to take pictures and a video, or it did not really happen right? Sorry, but I digress.

Here is the point of the lesson. It would have been just as easy to miss the moment and not be present in the first Christmas as it is today. The chaos of the moment could have robbed us of the joy of a savior being born who would take away our sins.

Think not?

Let's move to our modern day Christmas. It seems to happen today amid the lights, trees, parties, gifts and even Church services that if we are not careful our presence is there but we are not present in the presents, if you get what I am saying.

How do we do it then? Today, as I prayed and ciphered, the Lord shined the light on Mary for a moment. I believe she shows us how and what it means to be present at Christmas.

The Bible said in the middle of it all, as others were running and going, Mary took it all in. She breathed deep and soaked up every sight, every smell, and every sound. See how Luke put it in his gospel, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

A.T. Robertson in his commentary described this scene for Mary like this, “She kept on keeping together all these things. They were meat and drink to her. She was not astonished but filled with holy awe. The verb occurs from Aristotle on. She could not forget. Pondering. An old Greek word. Placing together for comparison. Mary would go over each detail in the words of Gabriel and of the shepherds and compare the sayings with the facts so far developed and brood over it all with a mother’s high hopes and joy.”

Mary was present. She did not have a cell phone or even a photograph to replay these moments as she recounted them to Luke later in her life. She had something greater. Because she paused and took it all in, it became a part of her, not just for that day, but for the rest of her life, it was in her heart. All of it, the moment created a memory of what God had done on that precious night that her son, Jesus Christ, was born.

Now I know we are not going to experience all that Mary did on that night. But I do know we all blessed by what took place that night. And because of Jesus, we have salvation now and an eternal home when we die if we accept Him as our personal Savior. Then daily, we are blessed with His presence as He comes to us in fellowship.

So, no matter where you are in the journey this Christmas and what you are facing, take time to ponder and take it all in. Be present. It will not ever be just like this ever again. Ponder on His grace and mercy in your life. Look back and look around at His blessings and soak them in.

Yes, traditions change, families must adjust to schedules and yes even sometimes those we love are called home ahead of us. People get sick and even face trials at the most wonderful time of the year.

But no matter what, God has given us a gift – the present. We cannot do anything about the past, we cannot force the future, but we can live out fully in the present. So, to be fully cliché, be present in the present this Christmas.

Take time to talk, put a puzzle together, sit by the fire and watch a movie, read an enjoyable book you have been putting off and before you open the gifts and hand out the presents – take a moment, breath in the sights and sounds, even the smells. See how blessed you are, no matter the size or quantities of the gifts. If you can take in a breath and say I love you to someone, you are among the blessed.

Listen, I know we live in a real world and there are things, people, and places we cannot neglect. Life must go on, we all know this.

Just saying, this Christmas, take time to do as my cousin Hope has been teaching me over the last year - be where your feet are.

Be present this Christmas. See Jesus, see those around you and see your blessings. Pray, pause, laugh, cry and even sing loud at church, enjoy a good meal, slowly! Take it ALL in!

Just ponderings I have been having. Maybe some food for thought this week.

God bless you all and thanks for taking time to read my ramblings. From the bottom of my heart, I am grateful.

Pastor Michael