Santa Christ? Jesus Claus?

img source: themumpowerfamily, Creative Commons
img source: themumpowerfamily, Creative Commons

Separating the attributes of Jesus from those of Santa this time of year can be tricky.

Growing up as an American kid in a Christian household, I was told that “Jesus was the reason for the season” but that big ol’ jolly guy in the red suit was definitely a reason, too. Always the inquisitive one, I had figured out by about age five or six that Santa Claus was just a legend and commercialized character, but that did not stop me from wanting all the perks on Christmas morning that came along with believing. And yet there was still a magic about the whole Christmas experience – although I don’t think it came from a heart filled with wonder over the birth of the savior of the world. Sometimes it surprises me that although I knew from a very young age that Santa Claus was not real, the idea of Jesus as a man who once walked this earth and now lived in Heaven remained very real to me.  Now as a twenty-something adult, I am going through the process of stripping away the pop culture and Americanized version of who I believe Jesus is, and trying to figure out who he truly is.

I am learning that in order to truly follow Christ, I actually have to be in intimate relationship with him. I have to come to him with every aspect of my life and being asking him, “How do you want to use this?” I expect him not only to listen, but to answer. I do not believe Jesus wants me to jump into his lap, list off the things I want, and then be on my merry way. He is eager to give me good gifts, but he wants me to understand why he is giving them in the first place. He wants me to know that he values me, that he is proud of me, and that because I am loved by him, that love should overflow into my life and how I love others.

Whether I am naughty or nice, I God will not move me from one column to another. There is nothing I can do that will make him end his pursuit of me. Grace does not mean that I have the license to run around and make foolish decisions while expecting a pat on the back, but whenever I screw up (which is often), he is still there waiting as to ask for his forgiveness and then keep moving forward. There is nothing I can do to make him love me more, or want to give me more presents. His view of me always has been and always will be the same: I am his creation, and because he made me just as I am, he loves me just as I am.

I have discovered that there IS a wonder, magic, and mystery to this man Jesus of Nazareth. I do not have to wait anxiously for him to come around once a year, and wait with bated breath to see what side of the list I landed on this year. I can meet with him daily, and ask with confidence what good gifts he has in store for me. A real, interactive relationship with the living Christ is worth far more than any material thing I could have ever asked for from Santa Claus.

Do you struggle with the idea of a God who rewards you if you are “naughty” or “nice?” How does your view of God play into the Christmas season?

[This post was originally published elsewhere as a guest post in 2009]

Have Yourself A 20-Something Christmas

img source: Will Folsom, Creative Commons
img source: Will Folsom, Creative Commons

I have always loved Christmas and the anticipation that leads up to it. As a child, I spent many hours trying to find the gifts my mom would so painstakingly hide. I relished the suspense of seeing presents under the tree, dreaming up all the possibilities of what could be inside. On Christmas morning I would get up early, awakened by anticipation in the darkest of night, and sneak downstairs after I knew my parents and ‘Santa’ had finished arranging their pile of gifts and stuffing our stockings. I tiptoed about in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, gazing at the overflow of presents, basking in the calm and magic of Christmas before dawn.

As I grew older, the thing that made this season so special was not as much about the presents, but about being able to spend significant quality time with extended family who lived hours away. It was the one time of year we all gathered together to sit around the table and exchange stories of God’s faithfulness, and to have those unavoidable family debates. Throughout high school and college, I began feeling a longing, that desire to have someone to share my incredible family Christmas experiences. I looked at the strong marriages in my extended family, the camaraderie between all my aunts and uncles, and I felt the pang in my heart of bittersweet hope.

One day I will have that, but when?

The fact that popular culture harps on the ‘misery’ of being single during the holidays certainly did not help my case. You can not get away from it. I felt like I was missing out. My soundtrack to this season became variations of the sentiment behind SheDaisy’s “That’s What I Want for Christmas” (which of course I played on repeat):

‘When you said yesterday that it’s nearly Christmas
What did I want and I thought just love me, love me, love me
That’s what I want for Christmas
When I walk through a room let them see you need me
Walk through a room let them see you love me, love me, love me
That’s what I want for Christmas…’

Over the years, I had boyfriends through the holidays, so I had a taste of having someone to belong to during this magical season. When I was dating in my early twenties, my vision of a perfect engagement involved hot chocolate, a big fuzzy blanket, a one-horse open sleigh. My dreams were grandiose. My expectations for what Christmas would look once I had found my other half were pretty high to say the least. Thankfully, my parents had a pretty strict policy that boyfriends were not permitted to join us on family vacations. At the time it was annoying, but now I am grateful. The sacredness of most my favorite family memories are not marred by the ghosts of boyfriends past.

Finally, on Christmas of 2011, when I was 26, the dream of sharing my beloved family Christmas traditions with my true love came to pass. My new husband Nick came with me for our big extended family Christmas in North Carolina. It was surreal to watch a hope I had held so long come true. Having my husband among my family was wonderful. The ease with which he fit into our family surprised me a bit. He laughed and swapped stories with my cousins and uncles. It was oddly like he had always been there.

But can I tell you that now on the other side of my former hopes, while having someone forever at Christmas is wonderful, it is not quite like I pictured it? I live across the river from New York City, the American headquarters of Christmas cheer. People come here in droves to experience Christmastime in the city. There are many things I love about living here, but there are others that challenge my younger self’s expectations of what married Christmases would be like. I do not have a big, comfortable living room with a crackling fire and Christmas tree decked to the nines with ornaments telling stories of Christmases past. I live in a one bedroom apartment less than 800 square feet, and no real room for a respectable Christmas tree. So we make do with what we have – a wreath hung on our window, some twinkly lights, and a little tabletop greenery.

Now that I am married, I balance not just my family holiday traditions, but the those of my husband’s family as well. My Christmases will never look the same again. There are wonderful aspects of that, but also challenging ones. I am blessed to have incredible in-laws, but now I feel the pang of missing out in a different way – of not being able to be in two places at once. Those extended family holidays in the south will be few and far between. Distance and job responsibilities shape our Christmas season now. When we move into the season of life where we have children of our own, our holiday realities will shift all over again. And I admit… I’m looking forward to creating magical Christmas memories for my future kids – even though they will likely be entirely different from I imagined.

So for my friends whose hearts ache during this season, those still waiting and longing for the next stage, do your best to cherish this time in your life. And regardless of where you are… single, dating, married, waiting for children, or a growing family, Christmas requires cooperation. No matter your “status,” if you want to experience the magic and wonder of the season to its fullest, you have to start practicing now. Carry on your family traditions, or begin building your own. The magic of Christmas happens when you count your blessings and embrace where you are wholeheartedly.

[This post was originally published December 2013 at Sometimes, Always, Never.]

On Fighting for Joy and Clinging to Hope

img source: rabasz, Creative Commons
img source: rabasz, Creative Commons

This Advent season has been hard.

Really, if I am honest, this fall has wrecked me. Between constant reminders of violence, injustice, inequality and my own personal heartbreak, there have been days during the past few months have sometimes seemed unbearable.

While I believe I know at the core of my being the loving Father-heart of God, in the midst of the pain, I have found it hard to hope. Daring to hope means opening yourself up to disappointment and heartbreak. It feels risky and foolish, and sometimes false, like it is often shrinking instead of growing.

I was talking about this with a dear friend this weekend, and she said:

“Yes, but choosing not to hope is choosing your own personal hell.”

There is already so much hell wreaking havoc in the world right now. I don’t want to add to it. I have to stand on the side of hope and faith, even when it doesn’t make sense.

A couple of months ago, Sarah Bessey wrote a post about faith and the uncertainty of her fourth pregnancy, and these words are still echoing through my heart:

“I think faith is figuring out what I hope for – redemption, wholeness, shalom, justice, love, life, one small baby to live and not die, all of it – and then fearlessly living under that roof.”

I couldn’t be more thankful that she has staked her claim, for firmly planting herself under that roof. I need to know others are camping out there too. And the fact that even she can settle there, after multiple miscarriages on her journey to motherhood, gives me hope.

So, I do hope – that one day, one way or another, for myself and others who pray to know the joy of being a parent. In the meantime, I will fight to believe what I know to be true and be encouraged by those under that roof along with me – those that have bold faith for what they cannot yet see.

I have made it a point to get up as many days as possible recently to sit in silence, to pray, to reflect and practice gratitude. With so much around us that is broken, I am begging God to make things right.

I don’t hold onto hope lightly, as a nice sentiment. I hold onto it for survival, like gasping for breath.

I have to choose hope and joy daily, because my only other options are apathy or despair. I do this even though common sense says it is not worth it, even though my tender heart will likely be broken again and again in the process.

I need Advent this year perhaps now more than ever. I need to plea before a God who knows and loves humanity, who knows and loves me, and gets it to the core because He was once human Himself. I am clinging to a God who saw the darkness and shined a light into it through sending his Son to experience and then overcome it. Jesus modeled love, fought injustice, and still binds up the brokenhearted. He invites us to participate in the reconciliation of all things. Our Savior has come, and will come again.

A thrill of hope.

The weary world rejoices.