"Is there anything we need to do tonight?" I heard the question coming from my husband in another room. "Yes, we have to go Christmas shopping," I answered. It seems as if all my days (after work hours) and nights are filled with preparations for Christmas now. But they are things I perceive are imposed on me by standards of the world. I asked myself how I could be available for God during Christmas -- I had too much to do!
I mulled the fact around in my mind that I still had shopping to complete, Christmas cards to send, gifts to wrap (if I ever got a chance to purchase or make them) and decorations that needed to be in place. Parties must be attended, and a school Christmas play participant begged for my presence at her performance. Whew! I was exhausted already and had not even listed everything. I wondered where I was going to find time to complete all those "must do" jobs. We also had felt compelled to attend the annual Christmas Parade of Lights, and although the parade definitely exemplified the joy of the holidays and the coming birth of Jesus -- it stole more of my time.
High on my list of priorities at Christmastime is participation in spiritual and church activities. With my already overflowing agenda I wondered how I could find time to go into the desert of which John spoke so I could find God and he could find me.
In the Bible, the desert was a place of encounter with God. "John the baptizer appeared in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were 'going out to him' and were baptized by him in the river Jordan confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4-5)
Every year we Christians celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ -- or do we? Sometimes I feel so swamped performing jobs I feel society has thrust upon me, I am celebrating anything but the birth of Christ. And I wonder if God can find me in the crowds of shoppers. Can I discover him as I hurriedly wrap gifts at home, while addressing Christmas cards? Perhaps, since God is everywhere, but will I slow down long enough to "listen" when he calls? When John the Baptist called the people of Judea out into the desert to repent and let God find them he meant for them to leave the props and things on which they depended behind so their hearts could be filled with God. (Mark 1)
I asked, "What am I genuinely celebrating at Christmas?" The season provides a wonderful reason for my family to gather. It seems as if people make a special effort to meet at Christmas. Friends congregate at parties where decorations represent the yuletide theme, and feast on scrumptious Christmas goodies. And gifts are exchanged with mirthful hearts. All those activities are valuable if performed in the right vein -- to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. And if Christmas is commemorated for the correct reasons one should cease to be unduly distressed because of being unable to complete everything on a list. Limited funds for gifts would cause little distress; rather one would place time for God first.
I contemplated I must come out of hiding -- from the shopping mall, gift wrapping, baking, and other distracting elements for God to find me. If I was so filled with all the trappings of holiday glitter and fun that I failed to meditate on God, how could he come and fill me with himself?
I must, indeed, examine my priorities this Christmas and see what gives genuine meaning to life. People are important, my home, parties, gifts, and bright lights, but God is my primary focus. But can God find me in my busyness? During this season of Advent, as I await Jesus' birth, I know I must let go of what I am holding onto before I can go into the barren desert and embrace God. And realize no matter how joyous the celebrations, my heart will still be restless until I rest in God (St. Augustine).
I must come forth from my hiding place and make myself available for God to find me. Will you be available so God can come to you this Christmas?
Ellen Shuck is director of religious education at St. Mary's Cathedral parish in Cape Girardeau.