Turning Christmas Upside Down

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Our Thanksgiving leftovers were still warm when my husband and I started pulling out the Christmas decorations last weekend. With only four amazingly short weeks between holidays, I am sure many of you can relate to our anxious excitement to get a jump-start on the to-do list. After an initial whirlwind of decorating the tree, setting up the manger, and hanging the stockings, I took a break and went for a walk.

There is a certain loop I follow on most of my walks. It winds through the woods, past a pond, into a neighborhood, and back again. Because I am a creature of habit, I usually walk the same direction on this route each time. On this particular day, I decided to live life a little more on the edge and traveled the opposite way. Daring, I know!

Have you noticed how doing things backwards or turning things upside down often brings a different perspective and teaches you something new? This walk was no exception. I came back with a fresh outlook about my walking route and about preparing for Christmas. I was ready to turn Christmas upside down.

What does turning Christmas upside down mean?

The usual preparations for Christmas include decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, entertaining, mailing holiday greetings, etc. – done in an “orderly” fashion for each household, of course 😉 . When Christmas Eve arrives, many celebrate Jesus by going to church for an hour or so. Some will read the Bible story of Jesus’ birth. In comparison to everything else done in December, little time is dedicated to learning about Jesus until Christmas actually arrives.

Turning Christmas upside down means celebrating and learning about Jesus throughout the month instead of at the end of the month.  

How can we benefit by turning Christmas upside down?

  • We learn new things about Jesus.

Traveling the opposite way on my walk brought a changed perspective on my surroundings. For example, from a different vantage point I realized the huge, beautiful weeping willow tree I pass almost every day was no longer there – only a stump remained. I wondered if it had been gone a long time, and how I missed noticing the emptiness.

In a similar way, turning Christmas upside down helps us see things about Jesus we did not notice before. Reading Bible passages about his birth throughout the month brings ideas to mind that we are unable to take in all at once on Christmas Eve.  Enjoying a new book about the meaning of Christmas or participating in an online Bible study provides learning and a break from holiday activity. Working on a Christmas service project lessens distractions by helping us focus on others. Or, simply carving out some time for prayer can bring us closer to knowing Jesus. All these things send us a different way than the norm.

Activities that help us see Jesus throughout the month deliver knowledge we did not even know we were missing.

  •  We become more aware of Jesus in everyday life.

I’ll fess up. Coming at the scenery of my walk in a different direction made me feel a little out of my element. Because the walk was not done in my natural pattern, I worried that I might miss the normal turns in the neighborhood. As a result, my brain jerked to attention and I became more aware of my surroundings.

Turning Christmas upside down also makes us feel uneasy. There are a million things to do besides focusing on Jesus, right? It feels more natural to get on with the shopping and the wrapping and the planning. But, if we change our route to include Jesus in each day, we begin to notice his love more during the month. We pay attention when our circumstances improve or we learn from them. We smile more and tell people we appreciate them. We thank our loved ones and really mean it. We notice how God is working for our good every day.

Heightening our awareness of Jesus naturally makes us more alert to his goodness in everything we do. 

  • We slow down and enjoy our holiday time.

Learning new things and becoming more aware on my walk caused me to slow down and enjoy myself more. While walking in the opposite direction, I was not lost in thought or on exercise autopilot. My environment captured my attention, and I found myself feeling grateful for that.

If the same logic applies, then learning new things about Jesus and becoming more aware of him in the midst of our preparations will also help us slow down and enjoy our holiday time more.

Taking time to learn and look for Jesus as we walk (don’t run) towards Christmas brings us more gratitude and peace.

So, I am almost finished with my decorating. Yesterday, I placed a snow globe on the table in the entry way. I love snow globes and the miniature magical lands inside them. Everything appears so pristine, orderly, and still while they sit right side up.

Looking at mine like this, I think it’s pretty, but hmm… also kind of boring. The real magic happens when we turn it upside down and shake things around a bit. I turn the globe upside down. There…that makes it more beautiful, more interesting.

I watch the snow swirl, and I smile. A lot of things in life look better after you turn them upside down.

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A Prayer for Your December:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2 NLT

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all the other things competing for our attention this holiday season. Thank you for the precious gift of your son, sent to offer us eternal life with you. Help us walk in a different direction towards Christmas this year. Bring us new opportunities to learn about Jesus and show us how we can serve you. Open our eyes to your joy in all the preparations we undertake. May we enjoy our walk with you this month, and be filled with the peace and gratitude that comes from spending time in your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 

Resources to Help Turn your Christmas Upside Down

Online Bible Study based on the book Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado 

Scripture readings about Jesus’ birth

The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren on Amazon.com

A Scriptured Life posts from the 2015 Christmas season:

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 1 -Worry

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 2 -Expectations

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 3 -Peace

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 4 -Celebration

God Doesn’t Do Rush Hour

The Open Road

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 New International Version (NIV)

It’s Monday, another week, and another 168 hours to get something done. Hearing these words can conjure up images of to-do lists, tighten chests with anxiety, and tie stomachs in knots. The weeks of our lifetimes seem to cruise by with increasing speed the older we become.

Catching our breath, we notice conversations littered with common phrases such as “so busy”, “don’t know where the time goes”, and “gotta run”. We read books on developing more efficient habits, watch programs on time management, and hire services to help organize our lives. Clearly, the quest for using time wisely is important to us.

We can learn how to eliminate nonessential tasks and how to prioritize the remaining items. But, what if, even after cutting back, our list still leaves us with a feeling of dread? Maybe, it’s not only the number of things to do, but also the approach in doing them that needs tending.

In Garth Stein’s wise and witty book called The Art of Racing in the Rain, he writes: “In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle” (83).

Applying this, if we regularly set our sights on busyness, we have no direction or control when a wall shows up. However, if we look ahead and visualize driving through life’s crazy course of events with diligence, then we can continually regain traction. Our distracted society makes it easy to go with the flow of never getting enough done. Living in busyness, without a focal point, is like driving in rush hour; we get nowhere. God calls us to vigilantly search the horizon for worthy purposes and focus attention in that direction. A welcome sense of peace comes when we live our lives focusing on a purpose, instead of distractions.

Turning attention away from upcoming walls requires slowing down and noticing our surroundings. Last week, while shopping at Target, a preschool age girl with sparkly silver shoes darted in front of my cart to get a better look at a display of the newest toys adapted from the Disney movie Frozen. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness…would you look at this?!” she squealed exuberantly. Her father, I noticed with amusement, seemed unfazed as she rattled on. His focus was ahead, towards bath necessities and groceries.

Perhaps, the little girl’s unbridled enthusiasm is a daily pattern of life for this father. Maybe, that particular day, it was a notable distraction from the direction his “eyes”, and thus his “car” really needed to go. Understandable. I wonder, though, if like the rest of us at times, he needs reminders to slow down and become more aware of the gifts in front of him? Allowing for moments of mindful appreciation help us remain present and grateful for God’s direction in our lives. These breaks in our day give us space to breathe and to think about where we are headed.

Clarity regarding how our time is spent comes easier when we focus, slow down, and remember to involve God in our decisions. We often forget to ask him for direction when we are rushing about. He gave us free will to make choices, but he never intended for us to feel alone in making them.

His directions are the gut feelings we get about whether something is right or not. It’s what drives people to do great, big things like put a man on the moon, end a war, and research cancer cures. It’s what drives people to do smaller scale, kind acts like visiting an elderly neighbor, helping a struggling child learn to read, or sending a care package to a Syrian refugee.

All of these acts matter. None are considered insignificant. God places a different call in each one of our lives; spending time with him is how we figure out what that call is for us. If we slow down long enough to identify what we are aiming for and ask God for direction, our time here will be more fulfilling.

Invite God along for the ride. Listen for his quiet instructions to set your gaze down the track. And, remember he prefers the scenic route.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for the blessing of the hours in this week. Help me remember to include you in the process of making my plans and to ask for guidance in prioritizing my tasks. Show me how I can better serve others for you. Keep my focus on finding and following your directions for my life. Bring my attention back to your goodness through moments of pause. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)

Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How often am I overwhelmed by my own busyness? Can I prioritize my to-do list so that I move at a steady pace, focusing on my task while still appreciating the gifts that surround me? Can I remember to ask God to help me figure out what he is calling me to do and listen for his direction in my day?