My House Without a Christmas Tree

1354077As a girl, I loved the book The House Without a Christmas Tree. I understand it was a television special but I don’t remember having watched it. The book, however, I read, and reread, many times over. The grief of being motherless mirrored in the lack of a Christmas tree captivated me, no doubt because I could not imagine life without a mother nor, for that matter, a December without all the accoutrements of Christmas.

I had forgotten all about The House Without a Christmas Tree until this past December when it was my house without a Christmas tree or anything else festive decor related. No, no, we weren’t suffering from a tragic loss or anything like that. Rather, we moved and, upon moving in to our new home, we began a minor remodel. Nothing huge, just replacing flooring and installing ceiling fans, stuff like that. But it meant that our downstairs living space was for the most part uninhabitable during the month of December.

First world problems, I know. Actually upper middle class first world problems and I get that. But, as embarrassed as I am to admit this, I grieved the lack of a tree and the few other Christmas items I used to scatter about in a noble attempt at decking the halls.

It’s weird, isn’t it? I mean–and this is for all you longtime readers (anyone? anyone?)–just how many posts have I logged in at this site lamenting Christmas and my disdain for all its bells and whistles? I’ve labeled myself a Grinch and I’ve rather loudly and repeatedly announced my Yuletide hatred.

Not the baby Jesus part, mind you, I didn’t claim to hate that, but rather all the pomp and circumstance of the season: the tree and the decorating and the hustle and the bustle and the frenzied and frenetic pace.

But this year I didn’t hate it. I missed it. I was sad. I grieved.

I think maybe it had something to do with my boys growing up and the nest emptying. “It’s my second son’s last Christmas break at home!” I kept anguishing. I felt the pressure of wanting the perfect Norman Rockwell type scene, you know, the stuff they tell us memories are made of, especially when my Instagram feed was full of them. The sense of failure and inadequacy overwhelmed me, as we huddled upstairs out of the way of the workmen doing their work.

It’s silly, I know. But I confess as much to you because of something I read in Come, Let Us Adore Him, an advent devotional by Paul David Tripp. The December 16 entry begins with the following observation:

In truth, that beautifully decorated tree, wrapped presents, and all that tasty holiday food, which make us happy during the Christmas season, are poor representations of the world into which Jesus was born, and what his everyday life would be like. Jesus didn’t show up for a celebration. He wasn’t here for a vacation. His world wasn’t well decorated, and he surely wasn’t well fed. He came to a world that had been dramatically broken by sin, and his calling was to expose himself to the full range of its brokenness…Jesus came to suffer because he came to be our Savior.

Tripp goes on to say that there’s nothing wrong with the tree and the ornaments and the fabulous food; of course our celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord should be one of joy and jubilation. Yes! We’ve been saved by the lavish gift of grace granted to us by the Father in the life and death of His Son, glory to God!

And yet Tripp says our joy should be tempered, that we should commit ourselves to be “a sad celebrant.”

Let your joy at what your Savior has gifted you be mixed with grief at what it cost him. Remember this Christmas that you celebrating the birth of the ‘Man of Sorrows.’ Remember as you celebrate that the One whom you celebrate enjoyed none of the things that likely make up your celebration (a house, beautiful things, fine food, etc.). This Christmas may your holiday joy be shaped and colored by remembering that you have eternal reason for joy because of the life, death, and resurrection of your humble, willing, suffering Savior.

That last sentence,y’all. I was a sad celebrant, indeed I was, sad and resentful and jealous too, but only because I grieved the lack of what I thought constituted Christmas, stuff that in reality Jesus never had. I mean, I knew it intellectually. Of course Jesus didn’t drink wassail out of a matched set of Christmas mugs while gathered with his family in matching pajamas in front of a fake tree lit by strings of electric lights. I know that; I knew it last month. But seeing my grief for what it was–and what it wasn’t–this was sobering. And good. Thank you, Paul Tripp, for reminding me of true joy and rightly placed sadness.

Maybe it wasn’t the lack of decked halls that brought you grief this Christmas or on this chilly rainy day in January. Maybe you couldn’t even admit to being a sad celebrant, because celebrating seems so foreign to your current circumstance. May you and I both, however flimsy or weighty our grief may be, place our hope and joy in Christ. Let us ponder His sacrifice and His suffering and thank Him for coming to save us. Let us remember our eternal reason for joy: Jesus, our Savior, our Lord, our indescribable gift from God.

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Confessions of a Christmas Curmudgeon

I have something of a reputation as a Christmas curmudgeon, one not entirely unwarranted, as Christmas seems to bring out the worst in me. I never intend for the holidays to culminate in me sobbing into the wrapping paper out of sheer exhaustion and frustration but, well, sometimes, many times, it happens.

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary.

Christmas, Job, and hope amid despair

I am sick. Yes, again. I’ve been sick off and on since before Thanksgiving. In fact I can’t remember the last time I felt good or even normal. It’s frustrating and wearying. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

My friend is enduring her own frustrating and wearying season. It seems she’s been dealt one blow after another, some serious, some less-so, all stressful.

Another friend of mine is terribly lonely. This has been a difficult year for her and on top of all the trials that have come her way she’s been disappointed by her church and, I think, her religion. She doesn’t know Jesus as her Savior and my heart breaks for her.

My pastor recently began a sermon series from the book of Job. Yeah, that’s right. Job. In December. At Christmas. Odd choice, some might think, but as I think on it, the more I think it not only appropriate but a timely and good word in due season.

Our expectations for Christmas are always so high, are they not? In fact I think that’s much of the reason for my Scrooge-ness through the years: I couldn’t achieve the ideal. My house never looked like the pages of the magazine but more like a disaster zone, someone always seemed disappointed with their gift, one or more of the kids would get sick, and on and on my list of Christmas grievances could go. It sounds silly to admit but all those little and wearisome failures and frustrations would blow up into full throttle despair. I hated Christmas and I hated myself.

Not only do we wear ourselves out with outrageous expectations but for so many of us Christmas is a time of grief and loneliness. Some of us have lost a loved one and their absence feels all the more keen with all the emphasis on family at Christmastime. Some of us are just lonely and that loneliness weighs all the more heavily at Christmas.

Enter Job and his example of suffering and suffering well. Our difficulties pale in comparison to his losses but, still, pain is pain, struggles are struggles, heartache is heartache. This past Sunday my pastor preached from Job 2 where Job laments the day he was born. Not many of us have endured the depth of Job’s trials but we well understand his anguish. I don’t have to tell you that life is hard and difficulty comes for us all at some point or another. Where then is our hope?

Maybe you too feel the tentacles of despair coloring your Christmas celebration. Maybe you grieve or maybe you’re just tired. Maybe you don’t know the security of salvation in Christ alone or maybe you need to be reminded of the hope that is yours because of Jesus. I hope you’ll watch the sermon below (it’s in two parts for some reason) and be encouraged by the truth of the gospel.

To live is Christ. To die is gain.

Video streaming by Ustream

Video streaming by Ustream

Christmas lights, worn out moms, and the world

One night, fourteen years ago, we piled the boys in the van and took a drive to look at Christmas lights. The baby was then a mere few days old and his mother an exhausted wreck as all new mothers are. How long had it been since I’d ventured out of the house? For that matter, how many days had I spent in my pajamas? My life at that point consisted of a hazy conglomeration of feedings and occasional naps and the demands of not only the newborn but of a 5 year old, 4 year old and a 2 year old. Bless my heart.

That night we drove around the neighborhood pointing out the spectacular and the not-so-spectacular light displays. I can’t remember if the boys were impressed or not. I do know I nearly wept from the few moments of rest. And freedom. And shock. Is it crazy to admit that I was surprised to find that life outside my four walls had carried on as usual? People decorated their homes and went to work and cooked supper, all without any knowledge or concern of the life-altering event I’d just experienced. It sounds silly to admit but I suppose I had forgotten there was a world beyond my own. As I said my life had, to that point, been consumed by the needs and responsibilities within our four walls. When we ventured out and I caught glimpse of the world outside I was surprised.

We concluded our little escape at the drive through nativity put on by a local church in our community. There amid the livestock and the mock stable was a baby. And a new mom. As we listened to the cassette tape intended to accompany the live nativity and as I watched the depiction of Mary and the baby I thought of my own newborn babe and I considered all over again the humility of Mary’s obedience and the joy of the Messiah’s birth, the baby Jesus born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

My need was great in those days and the gospel became incredibly precious to me as I struggled with the sheer physical and emotional exhaustion of being a mom to four. The incarnation—that Jesus became a man—was a comfort. He knew fatigue. He understood weariness. He was fully man and fully God and able to sympathize. He saves worn out moms desperate for grace, yes and amen.

That cold night we spent admiring Christmas lights taught me another important truth: the blessing of the incarnation isn’t only for me. I am part of a wider story, a bigger picture, a greater world. All around me people are living lives desperate for the truth of the gospel, lives untouched and unchanged by the life-altering, world-altering event of Jesus’ birth.

Jesus saved me, glory to His name, but He came to save all who are His. This gospel story isn’t merely about me and my need, it is about God redeeming a people for Himself through the birth, death and resurrection of His Son. There is a world outside our immediate context. May we look beyond our four walls and see God’s sweeping purposes throughout history. Mary, me, you–we are part of the joy God brings to the world through His Son. Let us go and tell.

Sunday Prayer: The Gift of Gifts

From The Valley of Vision,

O SOURCE OF ALL GOOD,
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
his self-emptying incomprehensible,
his infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp.

Herein is wonder of wonders;
he came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
he united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his.

In him Thou has given me so much that heaven can give no more.

The reason for the season

I just glanced through a few posts from Decembers past and I noticed something of a theme: an acknowledgement of the lack of regular posting as well as a quick overview of the month’s festivities and momentous events. I was thinking of posting something similar this morning but who wants to be so very predictable? Of course, one could argue that the fact of me actually posting something, no matter the content, is itself so squarely in the realm of the un-predictable that I needn’t worry about unnecessarily boring the two or three of you still out there reading this blog with familiar content.

While there were certainly events worth at least a passing mention, such as my youngest boys’ fourteenth and twelfth birthdays respectively, I’ll jump to the end and tell you we enjoyed a very merry Christmas, as I hope you did, full of the blessings of family and food and gifts galore. It’s true, Christmas loses some of its excited anticipation with the boys getting older, but still it was good. I struggled sometimes with the unexpected and sudden bout of melancholy here and there, plus I’ve been sick, but upon reflection there was (is) such an embarrassingly abundant outpouring of grace that I am humbled. And grateful. The Lord is good and He has blessed us beyond measure. Family, friends, health, freedom, laughter, love–all are ours and all are grace. Despite my many complaints and stresses in regard to the season, I am thankful for the opportunities that Christmas affords to spend time with family, to give gifts to those I love, to have the boys home from school for Christmas break, to celebrate the holiday over a plateful of good food, to sing songs of the nativity and to remember the baby born in Bethlehem.

Earlier this month I read the following from Tim Keller, as quoted in Nancy Guthrie’s compilation Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas

Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you.

Surely there are many reasons offered for the season. Christmas is for giving, we say. It’s about love and peace, goodwill and generosity. Perhaps some would stake the truest meaning of Christmas in its economic impact or determine the season is best celebrated by vilifying businesses who would dare wish us happy holidays rather than a merry Christmas.

While it’s right and good to give gifts at Christmas, that’s not where the true meaning of Christmas lies. No, as that Keller quote indicates, the reason for the season is that we are so wicked and so depraved and so willfully rebellious in our sin that we could never save ourselves. Indeed we would not want to. God had to come get us. He came, as a baby, fully God yet fully man, lived a perfect life, died a horrible, cruel death, and yet rose again to life–all to redeem us, to save us, to grant us new life in Him. This is Christmas: Jesus, the Word becoming flesh, dwelling among us, so that we might see His glory, the glory of the one and only.

May our Christmases be marked not only by shopping, giving, eating and such, but may we respond to Christ, the indescribable Gift, in repentance and faith, trusting Him to save us as He promised!

“…and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:21

The Gift of Gifts

From The Valley of Vision,

O SOURCE OF ALL GOOD,
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
his self-emptying incomprehensible,
his infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp.

Herein is wonder of wonders;
he came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
he united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
embrace him with undying faith,
exulting that he is mine and I am his.

In him thou has given me so much that heaven can give no more.

Friday’s Fave Five

In keeping with the Christmas past theme I’ve got going on here (and yes, one post does indeed a theme make, particularly when the posts are so few and far between), I thought I’d join in on Susanne’s Friday Fave Five carnival with five favorite Christmas card pics from Christmases past.

I love this one of my oldest two when they were my only two. It seems in bad form to have a favorite shot with only half your children but I love this reminder of how sweet and precious they once were, especially since now they tower over us all…

And, while I’m posting only half our quiver, here’s my second son’s first Christmas. Aren’t they cuties?

I am also partial to the shots with my oldest son holding a wadded up newborn. As you know, two Christmases two years apart found us with a two week old baby. Here’s our Christmas card picture with #3 son as a baby:

And #4 son when he was brand new; though I don’t think this shot actually made the card I still love it:

And my all time favorite picture of my guys. They are 6, 5, 3 years, and 12 months respectively.

And because I couldn’t choose just five, here’s a few more…

Do you have five favorites this week, pictures or otherwise? Link up at Susanne’s and let us know!

Christmas Past

In all my spare time (!), I’ve been thinking about Christmas past, particularly the Christmases of my childhood. Though I have no complete memory of any one Christmas, the various vignettes that come to mind are to me, to borrow Amy Grant’s lyrics, heirlooms worth treasuring.

There’s the Christmas my dad worked long and mysterious in the garage. Turns out he was building doll beds for me and my sister which my mom painted and made quilts and pillows, mattresses and dust ruffles to match. There was the Christmas I got a tape recorder and I taped my sister saying “I’m taking my baby-baby HOME!” and she and I laughed and laughed and laughed. And the Christmas we spent in my parents’ hometown, my mom determined to spend Christmas eve and Christmas morning in the house that was my dad’s parents, though it had no central heat and her parents’ home was nice and warm. Well, it was record lows that night, so cold that my dad spent the night coming in our room every hour or so to check our electric blankets. The next morning the pipes had frozen and burst, and we went to my moms’ parents home after all, the temp on the bank sign reading nine degrees as we passed by.

I remember the great anticipation and great joy of my childhood Christmases, my sister and I waking up in the wee hours of the morning, trying our best to wait as long as we could. I remember always having to wake our brother. I guess he would sleep until noon if not for his two eager and impatient sisters! I remember too my mom with her coffee cup, cooking breakfast though we were always sated with the candy from our stocking.

The first Christmas after my husband and I were married, we went to a tree farm to cut down our tree, a small one befitting our small one bedroom apartment. We were so excited about the gifts we had purchased each other that we couldn’t wait and opened them all on Christmas eve. We had no stockings, or at least he didn’t, so I had filled a basket with various stocking stuffers as a “surprise.”

I remember our first Christmas as parents, giving our 11 month old son a little tykes green tractor, and the two Christmases two years apart each with a two week old newborn. A few days after our youngest was born, we strapped all the kids in the van and rode around town looking at Christmas lights. In my exhaustion and the all consuming nature of being a mom to a baby only a few days old, I was amazed by the world outside my narrow experience of diapers and feeding, sleeping in fits and starts. Time hadn’t stood still, I was shocked to discover.

I remember the Christmas my husband got sick while we were visiting my parents, so sick I actually had to take him to the doctor. Our plans were to return home for Christmas eve but my parents (worried about us) urged me to stay. I wanted to be home so badly that I would have pushed the van the whole way if I had to, and told them so. We made it home, our Christmas eve dinner coming from the drive through at McD’s.

Memories, all of them precious, all of them snapshots of the Lord’s goodness to me. Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside, graciously bestowed from the Giver of all good things. As I reflect and remember, I see grace. I see goodness. I see mercy. I see Jesus, the indescribable Gift. So many graces, so many gifts, so many memories. The Lord has indeed been good to us; glory to His name!