I’ve always been a particularly sentimental and nostalgic person, and it has increased significantly since moving away from my family, where this nostalgia is often born. Even as a teenager, I collected and kept things that represent memories and moments that are special to me. I have a keepsake box in my living room – it’s actually one of those old photo boxes you used to be able to purchase at craft stores, but since we no longer print pictures, I’m sure it’s an antiquated reference. However, I love to use them for keepsakes, and every so often I get it out and look through the odd little items from years and years ago and remember. The box contains everything from piles of letters from dear friends to a piece of a broken plate. Other random items: small plastic toy with a particularly funny memory, a sticker from another great moment in life… you get the idea.
This kind of sentimentality is one of my favorite things about decorating my Christmas tree, as nearly every ornament is attached to a particular season in my life. I buy each one with intention or have received many as gifts from special people in my life, that remind me of them. The night I set aside to decorate my tree is sacred to me, including my favorite Christmas music and a great cup of hot cocoa from Trader Joes. 2013 is the first year of my life I do not get to spend with my family. They planned to come to Arizona early this year for their winter visit, but my dad’s doctors had other plans. While they determine the cause and potentially a course of treatment his irregular heart beat (which he was born with, so my dad is sure they will find nothing out of the ordinary) mom and dad are grounded in the cold Nebraska winter. They didn’t even put up a Christmas tree or decorate the house for the season. I think mom is just as disappointed as I am. I, however, have a full house decorated in anticipation of them coming, including brand new stockings for each of us hanging from one of my bookcases. I purchased a new Christmas tree, planned meals, made LOTS of Christmas cookies, some chex mix… the list goes on and on.
I was preparing.
I was already wondering how I would deal with an Arizona Christmas, as I’ve never had one before. But I’m not completely inadaptable to change, so this year I went back for Nebraska for Thanksgiving in exchange for them coming early. But now they are not coming at all. We will facetime each other this evening so we can at least “pretend” to be together this Christmas. Last year I remember being in the wrapping paper section at Target, and weirdly, finding an idol. This Christmas, with death, tragedy, people plowing into the relatives of my small group friends, causing them to be in the ICU, no mom and dad to spend Christmas with… well. It suddenly felt pretty much not like Christmas.
And then I remember this:
And I uncovered another idol.
What is Christmas, anyway? This is the hard question I’ve been asking myself these past several days. In the last 5 years, since I moved away from my family, Christmas has been about seeing them. It’s the only time I get to see most of them in the year. I’m close with my family and they mean a lot to me. I know this is rare for many, and that is perhaps why I cherish it so much. But the Christmas season became preparing to see them… making plans to see them… I got excited to see them. In other words, in my heart, Christmas hasn’t really been about Jesus. Ooof. It’s very hard for me to admit that, because I don’t believe I’ve forgotten the amazing gift of Jesus Christ. But I have not placed Jesus in the forefront of my own heart.
Two weeks ago I gave a message from Matthew 3, about how preparing for the Messiah looks like repentance and producing fruit. Well, as lonely as I will be this Christmas, I have much to repent of in my heart. Not my favorite way to spend Christmas, but certainly a way that will help me grow. Uncovering idols tend to do that. I hate it, but there it is.