~From my heart to yours~
My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts. It’s my Christmas gift to you!
The Avocado Plant
(Excerpts from Christmas Memories found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)
Christ made us free. Stay that way. Do not get chained all over again in the Law and its kind of religious worship. ~ Galatians 5:1 NLV
The ribbons and bows looked funny on that avocado plant, but my little brother and I beamed at our parents, showing off our “Christmas tree.” To their credit they didn’t reprimand us, but the delight my nine-year-old heart hoped to see in their eyes was pain instead.
They hated to disappoint us, but they couldn’t encourage such “pagan” behavior. See, I was raised with the belief that Christmas and all its trapping were not of God. Jesus was from God. He was sent to save us. But Christmas was not His birthday, and the Christmas tree was nothing more than leftovers from people who worshiped a false God.
It was to be another forty years before I owned my first Christmas tree.
Our daughter, Sarah, was three the first Christmas Jerry and I no longer worshiped in the denomination of my childhood. The church we attended had a tall, two-story Christmas tree. Lovely, it captured my heart and Sarah’s. But steps away from childhood beliefs are often tiny and faltering.
“When are we getting our Christmas tree?” our daughter asked from her booster seat.
“We aren’t planning to get one.” I tried to keep my tone light.
“Then I will go and get one myself.”
Knowing Sarah was too small to carry out her plans, I didn’t answer her. I wasn’t comfortable giving her the theology of my childhood, but I was not yet ready to embrace Christmas, especially the pagan tree. I would belt out “Joy to the World”—oh how I love that song—but trees were a different story. Still the yearning of my nine-year-old heart had never faded. How I craved celebration! How I longed to understand how to celebrate the birth of the one who’d been my faithful companion since childhood.
How hungry I was for freedom.
I watched others I respected. The leader of the women’s Bible study and I had a conversation about the origins of some of the Christmas decorations. She agreed that many had been used in pagan worship.
“Then why are you comfortable with them?” I asked.
“God knows the intent of my heart. I don’t see pagan symbols, I see beauty that draws me to worship.”
I pondered her response.
Always seeking. Trying to understand.
One friend shared with me about an especially intimate time she’d had with Jesus. One night after her family was in bed He prompted her to grab her journal and come away with Him for some alone time saying, “Come sit under the Christmas tree with me.”
It was hard to process. If the tree was evil, why did Jesus invite her to sit close to it and enjoy its beauty?
Maybe it was that picture of intimacy which most broke through my reserves.
I longed to savor the magic of Christmas with Jesus.
Eventually I embraced the idea of celebrating Jesus, from the heart, at Christmas time. But the progression of thought about how to do that has been a life-long journey. Jerry and I struggled for years with what was “right” and what was “wrong” in a nativity celebration.
As I look to the Advent season this year, I think worrying about the “hows” and “whats” of celebration miss the point entirely. What I truly yearn for is freedom to worship. However and whenever I feel the desire rise up within. I want to think less about the “right” way to worship and simply do it in joy. Christmas was stolen from me. In my desire for purity, I missed the freedom of redemption. In my efforts to follow Jesus perfectly, I missed an opportunity to worship Him fully.
A few years ago I walked through our neighborhood alone as dusk turned to night, and holiday lights began to flicker. As I passed one particular house, I gasped. Through the clear glass door I saw a glow that literally stopped me in my tracks. The beautifully appointed staircase with its carefully wrapped greenery, red bows, and glowing white candles took my breath away. As holiday decorations go, I suppose it was actually somewhat simple, but it was so lovely that my thoughts immediately lifted to Jesus. I stood on the sidewalk worshiping the most beautiful One of all. The King who willingly left heaven’s splendor with one goal—my redemption.
Jesus, You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you for emptying Yourself of the splendor of heaven to walk among us on this earth and pay the redemption price. I declare You worthy of worship and glory and praise and splendor. You are my Loving Savior. Please lead my Christmas season. Help me feel free to worship with as much—or little—pomp as this year calls up within me. Let each holiday action remind me of You. Fill my home with peace and worship.