Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas: A Fresh Celebration

I've always loved the Christmas season a bit more than most folk. This is not news. Most of my friends know that I bust out the Carpenters "Christmas Portrait" album sometime in September and that I cry on December 26th, every single year. I've been known to celebrate Christmas in July, just to get through the year until the "real" Christmas season comes back around. I wear vanilla perfume all year long because, frankly, I enjoy smelling like a big ol' Christmas cookie.

I've always assumed my giddiness over the yuletide (and just what is a yuletide, anyway? Someone enlighten me?) had to do with my December 24th birthday. But this year -- this year, more than any other year -- I can attest to another reason entirely. It has to do with a birthday celebration, yes -- but certainly not my own.

I've been following Jesus since I was fifteen years old. In churchy speak, I've been "walking with the Lord" or "serving Christ" or "living the life." In truth, for about sixteen years or so, I was going through the motions to a certain extent. We all do it; it's easy to fall into a comfy little nest of complacency after many years of living the Christian life. There's a cooling off process that happens if we're not especially diligent about fanning the flames of our passion. For me, it happened gradually, for reasons that felt out of my control. A divorce. A financial crunch. A sales career that kept me spinning my wheels at the office every Sunday (oops; there went the Sabbath) for years. Oh, I still loved Jesus. Passionately, even, at times. I worshiped in my car, at the piano, on the rare instance when life rocked my boat enough to bring me to my knees in search of the holy intimacy I once enjoyed. But there was little forward motion, little momentum.

God's fault? Not quite. Ever taken a long, hot bath, and gotten absorbed by a book as you lay in the tub? By the time you're twenty pages into the plot, distracted by the drama of the story, you're sitting in lukewarm water. And you never even noticed the temp was dropping.

I got lazy. My passionate heart for Christ -- the same heart that burned to know Him more fully at the age of fifteen -- cooled off a bit. No one would have known it; I still looked the part. I still prayed for others and talked about my faith and I even read a challenging Christian Living book once in a while. I went to Bible study. I did my homework. I regurgitated spiritual-sounding answers that sometimes inspired other ladies in my group, so I must have been "walking the walk" -- right? Christmas remained my favorite season for all those lukewarm years, and I wrote dramas that moved people at Christmas time, so I must have been "living the life" -- right?

Not so much. I stopped pursuing God. I stopped chasing after Him with the urgency I once had. I prayed faithfully, but not expectantly. My convictions slipped a little. The world began to feel more and more like home, and Heaven began to feel more like a distant dream and less like the place where my citizenship rests. But I didn't much notice. Metaphorically speaking, I was sitting in a lukewarm bathtub, engrossed in the drama of the story going on around me, more so than in the story going on within me.

In the past year and a half or so, God has been draining my lukewarm tub. I sat shivering for a while, wondering why He was being so mean. Why He seemed to be so mad at me. Why I couldn't get comfortable anymore.

I had a little temper tantrum. I pulled out all my old coping mechanisms, and abused them blatantly in the sight of God, daring Him to do anything about it.

He responded with mercy. Unbelievable.

I have learned more about God in the past eighteen months than I had ever known about Him before. I've gotten to know more of His character. I've seen more of His heart. I've understood more of His word, and -- get this -- how it applies to me. To me! Me, who blames God when her life falls apart. Me, who stops pursuing God even as He so relentlessly pursues me. Me, who had lost sight of the real reason why Christmas makes her so giddy.

It's because of Jesus, kids. He's the reason for the joy in my heart at Christmas -- because He's the reason for the joy in my heart, period. And this year, knowing His heart a bit better than before (He is "slow to anger, and abounding in love" . . . He is "everlasting" . . . He is the One who "sticks closer than a brother" . . . He is the One whose "grace is sufficient for me" and whose "strength is made perfect in my weakness"), my celebration feels more joyful than ever.

Christmas carols have deeper meaning. "O come let us adore Him"? You'd better believe it. "Long lay the world in sin and error pining / Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth"? My thoughts exactly. "Radiant beams from Thy holy face / With the dawn of redeeming grace"? Redeeming grace, indeed. No wonder I'm giddy.

I'm celebrating afresh this year. Nothin' lukewarm about it. No "holiday tree" for this ol' girl -- bring on the CHRISTMAS. I'm celebrating the birth of my savior -- Emmanuel, "God with us." And it does my heart so much good, next year I just might start in August.