One of my favorite Christmas movies is Elf. In the movie, the female lead character, Jovie, is less than excited about Christmas. One time, while decorating a Christmas tree, she explains, “I’m just trying to get through the holidays.” For years I have watched that portion of the movie and thought I understand how she feels. There is holiday traffic, holiday shopping, holiday travel, holiday $ shortages, and extra holiday pounds that are all unwanted! During Christmas, we can feel stressed and a bit squeezed on all sides (yes, that is a subtle joke about your tight pants).
In addition to stress, many people report high levels of loneliness during the Christmas season. On the surface, this loneliness is understandable. Many have had spouses, parents, and siblings that have passed away, leaving a gaping hole in one’s life. Some didn’t have children, and so it is easy to feel more alone this time of year. Some aren’t in a relationship and feel like it is just another year alone. Others have suffered through a divorce, and the holidays feel disjointed at best and ripped to shreds at worst. Some deal with family conflicts that cause a sense of dread about Christmas. Others feel lonely because the empty nest stage is in full swing and grandkids have not arrived or are visiting the in-laws. Many even feel alone inside despite crowds of family and friends all within arms reach.
“Many even feel alone inside despite crowds of family and friends all within arms reach.”
Here is the irony—the whole point of Christmas is to celebrate “God is with Us!” The very point of Christmas is to realize we are no longer alone because God is with us! Somehow we lose sight of God and don’t live through Christmas seeing, feeling, or believing his presence in our lives. Christmas should be the story of our lives, and the headline should be “God Is With Us!”
What can we do?
I want to share 4 things you can do to see and celebrate “God with Us.”
- Remember that God isn’t the God of easy, but the God who is really with us.
- Move your gaze past your problems onto God’s presence.
- Measure your worth on God’s scales.
- Let your experience of God “with you” lead you to deep, powerful, joyful worship.
1. God isn’t the God of easy, but God is really with us.
Many people think God’s job is to make their life easy. They want a God that will smooth out every road and every decision and every moment of their life. That isn’t God. He never promises that he is the God of easy. Instead, he promises us that he is with us, that he will never leave us or forsake us. If God was going to make things easy for anyone, who do you think he would do that for? His son! Surely God would smooth out the rough edges of Jesus’ life and the life of Mary and Joseph… right? Wrong.
Mary is pregnant outside of marriage, and although we know it was God’s doing, who else really believed that? It was a scandal. Why couldn’t God delay the census and save Mary and Joseph from the hassle of traveling to Bethlehem? Why was there no room for them? Why didn’t God prepare a place several years ahead of Jesus’ birth? The only way to understand these events is to realize that God isn’t the God of easy, but he was really with Mary and Joseph in their trials… and he is with us in ours too!
“God isn’t the God of easy, but he was really with Mary and Joseph in their trials.”
2. Move your gaze past your problems onto God’s presence.
We don’t see God very well. We, for one reason or another, really struggle to see him. The wise men who visit Jesus, however, are remarkably observant. There is a lot of speculation about who the wise men were, but they notice the smallest things of God and follow Him. They notice a star! They somehow determine the meaning of the star. Even more impressive is that they have the faith to make the journey. They have the perseverance to endure the hardships of the trip and the deception of Herod to find Jesus. They are filled with Joy and worship him! They see God working and navigate it all perfectly.
Our skill at observing and following God could use sharpening. We are often too consumed with our problems to see God with us. We sometimes become hyper-focused on health problems, grief, financial problems, anxiety, depression, family problems, work problems, even fear, and anticipate more issues before they become problems. The bigger our problems seem, the smaller our God will appear.
“I think we are more like doubting Thomas than the wise men.”
I think we are more like doubting Thomas than the wise men. The wise men see the breadcrumbs of God’s power and begin moving toward him with faith and conviction. Thomas sits in one spot, and even though his friends tell him that Jesus has risen, he doesn’t believe. He won’t move. Thomas won’t dare hope that it is true. Thomas’ problem is that he is dreadfully disappointed and depressed. Thomas doesn’t ever want to feel that disappointed again. Thomas folds his arms and declares that unless he can see Jesus with his own eyes and touch his wounds with his own hands, he won’t believe.
It is Thomas’ depression and disappointment that stops him from seeing God who was with him. Instead of sitting with our attention fixed on our problems we should move our gaze past our problems onto God’s presence. Look for where God is working. Celebrate the big and small things God is doing. Follow the breadcrumbs and signs of God and don’t take your eyes off of his incredible presence.
3. Don’t measure your worth on the scales of a worldly Christmas.
Sometimes we feel alone and forgotten when our life doesn’t measure up to the world’s expectations. At Christmas time, the world tells us that Christmas is about 3 things. (1) Big family, (2) Big gifts, and (3) Big meals. We view our Christmas to be inferior and shame-worthy if it doesn’t possess the Big 3. We might even feel forgotten by our friends, relatives, and God. God doesn’t promise us that our lives will always measure up to the world’s expectations.
“God doesn’t promise us that our lives will always measure up to the world’s expectations.”
In fact, Mary and Joseph, shortly after Jesus was born, flee to Egypt. They move away from their friends and family. They are living in a land with a different culture, different religion, different government, and different language. No one would blame them for feeling alone. Yet, I don’t think they felt lonely. In Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), she praises God for how good he has been to her! She celebrates God for how much he has blessed her. Even in her difficulty she measures her worth on God’s scales and ignores the opinions of the world. God wants us to do the same! Don’t measure your Christmas by the scales of the world. Instead, open your eyes to the God who is with you.
4. Let your experience of God “with you” lead you to deep, powerful, and joyful worship.
Have you ever read the Christmas narrative and wondered, “Who am I in this story?” For my part, I feel closest to the shepherds. The shepherds are these guys who are rough around the edges. They aren’t perfect. There is no mention of their wisdom. They aren’t painted with the same brush of humility as Mary and Joseph. They are ordinary. These ordinary guys experience a lot in a short time frame (Luke 2:8-20).
The glory of God appears in unmatched brightness against the backdrop of a shadowy night sky. The angel of God announces a savior-messiah. Directly after this announcement, heavenly hosts appear seemingly out of nowhere. Imagine thousands of celestial beings glowing and singing with all of the magnificence of heaven. Against the backdrop of common sheep, the heavenly hosts sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The shepherds’ minds are blown. Then all of a sudden, the angels all leave, and the field goes dark.
What next? They say let’s go see “this thing” that we just heard about. Shepherds don’t sound very eloquent. They go and see the Savior and tell everyone! Eventually, Luke tells us they return to their fields, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” No one had to tell them to get more heartfelt in their worship. They didn’t hire a production manager to make their worship more exciting. Their worship was driven by their experience of God with them.
“Their worship was driven by their experience of God with them.”
Our worship of God is inspired by our experience with him too. If we aren’t able to see him, our worship will suffer. If we aren’t experiencing the God who is with us, our songs will be flat, our lives will be stagnant, and our hearts will be drained of their passion. However, if we see that God is with us, praise will flow out. Let your experience of God “with you” lead you to deep, powerful, and joyful worship.
This Christmas, don’t become trapped by the stress and loneliness of the holidays. Don’t focus on your problems and miss God’s presence. Don’t throw yourself a pity party because your Christmas doesn’t look like the hallmark channel produced it. Instead, experience the God who is with you, and let your worship pour forth with depth, power, and joy. Live this Christmas like it is the story of your life!
For more from Joel, visit www.uncommonfollower.com. Used with permission.