This is the month most of Christianity celebrates the advent of Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem so long ago.
I went through a phase where I questioned all of that. It’s trendy to call what I did: deconstruction. As in: I ‘deconstructed my faith’. However, I am not a fan of buzzwords. They become overused and cliche pretty quickly and all of a sudden I’m annoying people with highbrow language. So I’ll use a deep analogy to annoy readers instead, LOL.
Starting in my late twenties and peaking in my early thirties, I dug down as deep as I could into the soil of my own life and I examined every root which I could get my hands on. This led to the shedding of a lot of things and the solidifying of other things. Thereby I made the religion I was ‘born into’, into my own chosen religion instead. I walked away from Protestantism and became a biblical Christian.
Ever dug up tree roots? It’s messy work. It’s hard work. It’s often alarming work too, as you find buried things which you never expected to find.
Which is how I came to give up Christmas for a few years, too. Well, not entirely. I found it was impossible for me to totally get rid of Christmas. But it was scaled way back. Most presumed I was joining the ‘Christmas has gotten too commercialized’ movement or something. My dilemma was far more of a spiritual dilemma than merely questioning the seeming ‘need’ to go shopping and decorating. When certain politicians and conservatives were insisting everyone say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of happy holidays: I wasn’t sure that Christ belonged in Christmas.
I couldn’t find Christmas in the Bible. I’m not talking about the account in Luke which we refer to as the Christmas story. I’m talking about how scholars are unsure which day and month of the year Jesus’ day of birth occurred. As well as the lack of a biblical command to celebrate His day of birth. I read compelling theological arguments for a fall birth, during the feast of tabernacles. As well as sound reasoning for why a December birth was possible too–as there were shepherds staying out in the fields watching the temple’s sacrificial sheep at night, year round, not just in the warmer months. Others believe that the immaculate conception likely occurred in late December and so celebrating Christmas on December 25th was appropriate either way.
Meanwhile what has become known as Easter–I could find that in the recorded account, in the passover feast and in Jesus’ command that His followers continue to keep it and commemorate His death. In Hebrew and early Christian life the day of death was known to be better than one’s day of birth: Ecclesiastes 7:1, Philippians 1:21.
But the Christian Easter is calculated by the moon cycles, and doesn’t always correlate with the Jewish passover. Therein I saw another problem.
With those I shared the deeper reasons with, I still felt misunderstood. Some judged my giving up on Christmas and questioning of Easter as if I was giving up on Jesus. Others thought I wanted to become a part of their religion (Hebrew Roots movements, Jehovah’s Witnesses). When I felt I was doing the opposite — actually searching for the real Him amidst the existing religious offerings of the world and Christendom.
Now that I have a lot of energy back again, I take part in Christmas without much dilemma, just an awareness that it isn’t all as ‘necessary’ or even as edifying as I thought it was earlier in my life.
It’s fun for me to decorate and keep a nice and welcoming home, to entertain people at our table on a cultural and/or Church holiday (yes, I am aware that is difficult to do in a pandemic.) And I like to be reminded of Jesus through music and the focus on Him that occurs this time of year. I feel that the message of the cross isn’t as fickle as to be threatened by whether or not I put some winter greenery on my mantle. I do, however, think it can be dangerous to wrap Jesus up as a baby, and keep Him there…
Regardless, I’m not really sure why all that stuff once bothered me as much as it did. Except that I needed to dig up the roots of my life and make that big mess I made in order to be set free from many, many things that had me trapped.
Plus, at the time I scaled Christmas back, I was exhausted and starting to get sick and truly questioning if a Christian should even celebrate what has become known as Christmas. When one is too exhausted to fully partake, plus one’s own conscience isn’t clear on a matter — it is best to avoid it (Romans 14).
This December already feels so different than any I’ve lived through prior. I’m back in touch now with the child hood work ethic I once knee-jerk saw as part of ‘being worldly’ or as putting one’s work above God. And I’m pondering all the verses and songs about Jesus ‘coming to earth at His birth’ and seeing their dual fulfillment in Jesus’ second coming. That second coming feels nearer now than it ever has prior. Which motivates me to continue working hard right up ‘to the end’.
In sharing my thoughts with others. (Seeing this season as a time to prepare myself for His second coming), I’m getting a return of the familiar ‘I think I am being horribly misunderstood in my approach to Christmas.’
To clarify: I’m not checking out of my life and waiting on a high hill for Jesus to appear in the air, as the angels appeared to tell the shepherds the good news at His first coming. It’s more like this: I feel this urgency to find a neglected hill in my life; to get busy tending some sheep on, or else I might miss the great appearing in the sky entirely…
I’ll return to that in a minute.
Let’s just say that I feel like there is pregnancy in the air. And something else stirring me which reminds me of the nesting phase prior to a baby’s arrival. A need to stay busier with my hands so that my mind can be more solidly focused on God. It works that way; for me. If I want to lose focus on God, I just need to lie around for a few days and then I’ll be scattered and not able to think clearly.
It also struck me last month, when reading the Book of John, how the fishermen, who were busy fishing when Jesus approached them, instantly recognized Him as Messiah. The learned men who were well studied and presumedly ‘watching’ for signs of Messiah – for the most part, missed seeing Jesus as Messiah. I wonder if that was because they weren’t actually, well, working at something, at the time of Jesus’ arrival on the ministry scene.
What does fishing look like? It means I show up at the office and keep things in order there. When at home: vacuum and mop the floors, do the laundry, keep in touch with loved ones, read the books and blogs I find edifying, work on writing projects (which may never actually get published), clean the closets, study the Bible, memorize verses, go for walks to clear my head and keep my body in shape, even when its cold outside, and always be ready for a knock at the door or a phone call from someone who wants to visit– and– generally: Keep all things under my charge in good order…or in other words: I just need to keep working, literally. Or as Jesus commanded: Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning (Luke 12:35).
I feel that I need to prepare not only for imminent return but for a lengthy time of Him tarrying in which I may face persecution OR continued prosperity and protection. Or some kind of a situation where brothers or sisters in Christ will ask for extended shelter in my home, or even the garage where our pets stay…a season where I am awkward and lumbering along myself, overdue and growing worn out, and must stay active regardless, all the while patiently enduring life here on earth– navigating the good stuff which tempts me to fall away from God and the bad which tempts me to despair too– whether the arrival I wait for comes quickly; or a long time from now.
Either way, I sense its long past time to get to work and/or to stay content in that work. I sense that will be the best possible way to actually prepare for my life to be completely up-ended by Jesus’ sudden arrival. Which will be as surprising as the onset of labor pains–even after nine months of knowing it is coming–it’s always surprising when it actually happens.
Yet I do think a surprise arrival will be less damaging and more likely to go well, if we realize the pregnant state of things, and that a pregnancy means there is a lot of work and preparation and study and reconnecting which needs to be done before we are ready to receive a child.
Get right with Jesus, pray and repent and praise Him daily. Examine our roots and take our born-into faith and either toss it, or, if its sound: truly make it our own born-again lifestyle.
Then continue cleaning that closet out, keep on fishing, or hammering, or watching after the sheep. Just as the fishermen were doing when Jesus appeared to them and told them to drop their nets and follow Him. And thirty years prior to that: just as the shepherds were doing when they were told the good news of a baby born to save the world and they left their work to go see Him.
The pattern that I deduce from scripture is that work and busyness isn’t necessarily the problem at all. Certainly not to the level which the pop-psychologists of the world, and even the church, often proclaim it to be.
The precedent seems to be that people whose hearts were right with God were actually found being busy; working and then they readily left their work to follow Jesus.
Perhaps those who missed Jesus the first time around, will be just as those who miss His second coming: not busy enough. I pray He finds me, and all my loved ones, fishing when He comes again. And that we all drop our nets and go with Him eagerly.