Christmas Isn't Over!
I know the decorations are gone, the lights are unplugged, and the wrappings are recycled. I see the excitement over the new toys is already fading. I even know that we have thankfully turned the calendar year page off of 2020. But as I stop to reflect on the first few days of 2021, with the crazy that has happened in our nation, and the uncertainty that has erupted in my personal life, the Lord reassured me with those words. Christmas isn’t over; in fact, it never really ends.
As much as I enjoy the Christmas decorations and the lights on all the neighbors’ houses, I start to get anxious for January first! That is the day all the decorations must come down in the Toriscelli house. Everything gets cleaned; the clutter and excessive glitter is gone, and my home just feels fresh and simple. Then of course I get the urge to start cleaning everything else! I realize that every single closet needs to be emptied and organized. The overflowing junk drawers need to be dumped. The stove and oven need a good scrubbing, and I start to see all the repairs that we have neglected over the past several months. The new year came like it usually does, with me noticing what needs to be done as I was putting my house back in order post-Christmas.
But we all know that noticing isn’t enough. If I don’t follow through with these clean-out projects, clutter and disorganization will continue to reign well into the new year. This little revelation came with a nudge from the Lord. What else have I simply noticed, but had yet to deal with?
Since that was just a simple, gentle nudge, it was easy to ignore.
The next day I got angry, really angry – screaming at the TV regarding a certain football game that was rather important to my husband’s team. After we had won, and I had calmed down, I knelt on the floor and repented for not trusting God enough with our future. I thought that was the root of my anger, so I applied my usual confession. (Also, I gave a quick prayer of gratitude for being home alone during that game, so that nobody else would ever know of my crazed outburst.)
Just a few more days into 2021 and things were not going according to my plans. I was shocked by some recent changes in my workplace. I took my disillusions to the Lord and thought I was at peace with them. But the waves of unrest continued, and the bizarre news of protestors storming our nation’s Capitol added fuel to my already anxious heart. Add the continuing threat of COVID-19, which was creeping closer to home, and the first week of my “Happy New Year” disintegrated into tears.
That’s when I knew it was time to revisit this incredible Advent sermon from a Nashville pastor, Elliott Cherry. Out of the many truths he conveys in this message, one was still nagging at me: “Messiah came to expose the deep, dark roots of my sin… to me!” Could a deep, dark root of sin explain my outrage at a football game and my unstoppable tears over my circumstances?
Pastor Cherry explained that the end of Simeon’s prophetic words to Mary and Joseph reveal this truth: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35, NIV) He explained that these are the deep thoughts, the secret thoughts that we would never share with anyone – the very root of our unholiness. Messiah knows.
I know that when I am feeling anxious or unsettled that it usually means that I have some unidentifiable heart sin or sickness. So, I recite a prayer that goes something like this: God, I know that my heart is deceitful and wicked, and that I can’t understand it. Would you search my heart and know me – would you reveal my anxious thoughts and show me my offensive ways so that I can confess them? Yes, it’s a bit of a mashup of a few verses, Jeremiah 17:9 and Psalm 139: 23-24, but when I sit quietly after this prayer, God is gracious and helps me understand what is going on. While this prayer has been really helpful to me over the years, I know that I will only sit with God long enough to hear just the first layer of yuck, confess that and move on.
But my recent circumstances combined with the insights from that sermon led me to realize there was a deeper root to my sin. I needed the Messiah to come and really clean. I needed to be willing to look in all the closets and empty all the junk drawers. So, as I sat in the stillness with my savior, He gently revealed when and where my thinking had gotten so off track. He went to the root of that first time I felt the way I was feeling now: taken advantage of and used. In that old instance, I willingly walked into sin. As I confessed my sin, asked for His forgiveness, I was also able to forgive the offender and renounce these long held beliefs that I deserved this type of treatment. Sitting in the presence of my savior, he gave me peace.
Normally, I would bail on my prayer time at this point, but I still needed more. I am finally learning to wait until the Lord is finished speaking before I utter my amen. And that was my second big takeaway from that impactful sermon. I needed to feel the favor and pleasure of God.
When the hosts of heavenly beings filled the night sky above the terrified shepherds their message was simple, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14, NIV). The ESV version translates this verse as “peace among those with whom he is pleased.” I still grapple with this idea that God’s favor can rest on me or that he is pleased with me. Pastor Cherry explained it this way: Jesus exposes the real me and justifies the real me; not the me I wish I was and not the me I show everyone else. Even with all of my dark thoughts and secrets, my vile desires and fantasies, I can stand fully justified and at peace with God. (Romans 5:1.)
I need to pause here for a minute. I am FULLY justified and at peace with the MOST HOLY GOD!
Hebrews 4:16 says we can approach the throne of grace with confidence and Philippians 4:6-7 says to present our requests to God. So, in the past I would picture myself entering the throne room of God and alleviating myself of all my burdens. It was this strange mix of duty and delegating. Here I am again, God, and here are all of my concerns. Will you fix them please? Oh! If you don’t mind, can you give me a little bit of that transcendent peace that’s promised at the end of verse 7? Then I would back out of the throne room and go about my day.
But Jesus’ arrival at Christmas wasn’t just about cracking open the door to God’s inner chambers for a few minutes a day. His favor rests on me. His pleasure fills me. Yes, he gives me peace, but he also delights in me receiving his peace. Like when we give our children gifts at Christmas, we delight in their delight. We would be sad if they opened the very thing they asked for and then they ran off and played with something else.
Now, I am learning to sit still with God in prayer and listen. I am learning to let him expose the deep, dark roots of my anxious thoughts. I am learning to exchange the resulting shame and lies for his truths. And, most importantly, I am learning to linger with him until I feel his pleasure. Paraphrasing my favorite Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, when Jesus appears, my soul feels it’s worth. Truly feeling my worth, receiving a fresh perspective on me through the eyes of my savior is the gift he longs to give me every time I pray, no matter what the date on the calendar might say.
My friends, Christmas isn’t over.
P.S. I still haven’t put away my Christmas coffee cups. Maybe I need to leave them out this year.
And you can find my favorite, live rendition of O Holy Night, here.