It starts out innocently enough. You dutifully climb into the attic and start hauling out the boxes of decorations. Once again the house is tricked out with stockings, twinkling lights, and the scents you save for just this time of year.
You ask the familiar questions: Do we go with same-old same-old, or try something completely new and different? Are we staying home, or traveling, or both? Who’s coming and going? What’s on the calendar between here and there? And of course, what should be get for [fill in the blank] this year for Christmas?
But here’s the tricky part – other than Black Friday, nobody’s giving you any extra time to make all that happen. You still have a job to go to (hopefully), 21 meals a week to account for, meetings to attend, bills to pay, promises to keep.
So how do you make it all fit together? You hurry. You scurry. And sometimes you worry that it never quite seems to all get done.
Truth be told, sometimes sacrifices have to be made to get it all in. And therein lies the rub… because the one thing that Christmas is all about often gets lost in the flurry.
What does it gain if you give and receive the whole world, but lose your soul in the process?
What good is it if you’re so busy doing for the people you love, you forget to actually love them?
How helpful is it, really, if you’re so driven in your campaign to “put Christ back into Christmas” that you abandon Christ where it counts the most – in your own heart?
Maybe it’s time for a different plan. Maybe it’s time for a different kind of present. Maybe it’s time to fall in love this Christmas.
You’re Not Immune
Think something like that could never happen to you? Think again. The most strategic gathering of believers in the first century learned this the hard way, in their own way. The church at Ephesus – the banner-bearer of Gentile faith – received this wrenching rebuke from Jesus: You’re faithful to the doctrines and busy to the bone, but you just don’t love me anymore.
Ho, ho, uh-oh.
Here’s how Jesus’ message to the Ephesians might be paraphrased in our time, at Christmastime:
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work for others and your patient endurance of the long lines and busy times. I know you don’t tolerate it when people turn the celebration of my birth into a greedy, material holiday. You have examined the claims of the religious and the retailers, and located the liars. You’ve patiently endured when Christmas becomes just another reason for the world to reject my name. And you’ve done all this without quitting!
But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you’ve fallen! Turn back to me; remember the spirit of Christmas when you had the heart of a child. There’s more to this than candles and crusades. Your own light among the nations is at stake. Do you hear me? Anyone with ears to hear – listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying.”
Rediscovering First Love at Christmas
There’s a reason Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a little child. There’s a reason that Christmas is so kid-centered. Maybe there – in the forgotten hearts of our childhood – we can rediscover what it means to fall in love at Christmas.
Start with anticipation. Remember what it was like to try to go to sleep with one eye, while you listened and watched for a visit from you-know-who on the night before Christmas with the other?
There’s much more at stake now than a few toys, to be sure. But that doesn’t have to rob you of your sense of anticipation. After all, if the Lord could orchestrate such an arrival for your benefit on that first Christmas day, don’t you think He’s still capable of more joyful surprises?
Don’t you think He loves you that much? Don’t you love Him enough to anticipate Him again?
How about hope? Christmas is the physical manifestation of what our hearts historically longed for: a relationship with our Creator and quality of life in the future.
The Old Testament is the story of our failure to ever perform correctly. The New Testament – starting with the birth of Jesus – is the story of God delivering to us what we could never deliver to Him. If the grace that graced the first Christmas gave answers to the problems people faced then, don’t you think that today we can still look at any need or problem through the lens of hope?
Don’t you think He loves you that much? Don’t you love Him enough to hope in Him again?
There’s no First Love without connection. Not the connection of doing, but the connection of being. As a race, humans are stuck in something of a frozen mistletoe line. We have this desperate, cosmic loneliness that aches to know somebody can love us even when we don’t deserve it. And the only way that gets satisfied is through connection. Time. Spent. Being. Still. Together.
With family? Sure. Friends? Absolutely. But if the estranged Creator of the human race can invade the loneliness of the willing and the watching with an oh, holy night of connection, don’t you think that He can do that again for you?
Don’t you think He loves you that much? Don’t you love Him enough to connect to Him again?
One more thing… availability. Remember as a kid how the closer you got to Christmas, the more aware you were of that “naughty and nice” list? Remember how you had some extra free time because school was out? Remember how available you were to do, well, anything for extra Santa credit? That’s what First Love is all about – availability. About being present, not getting presents. It’s about being interruptible and finding delight in the interruption.
Think about the main characters in the drama of the first Christmas. There wasn’t a sloth among them. Every one of them had plans and responsibilities, and they weren’t just sitting around waiting for something to do. But when God came calling with a touch of love that would last forever, they all responded with joy. And they changed their plans accordingly. Now. If the Lord could take such extraordinary steps to make Himself available to the human race at His first Advent, don’t you think He’s still available to you today?
Don’t you think He loves you that much? Don’t you love Him enough to be available to Him again?
Anticipation, Hope, Connection, and Availability. That’s the stuff of First Love. If whatever you call Christmas has you too busy to anticipate the future, believe for a better tomorrow, connect meaningfully or be interrupted by joy, then you’re too busy.
Maybe the gift most needed this Christmas is the gift of you.
Maybe it’s time to fall in love this Christmas.
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