In the spirit of advent and wanting to prepare my heart for celebrating Christ’s coming, I’ve been thinking about the concept of simplicity in our holiday activities. The idea that God’s children need to scale back the outward trappings of Christmastime in an effort to deepen our inward focus on the Reason for the season seems to be a popular one in some circles right now, and I’ve been mulling over whether or not that’s the lifestyle the season indeed calls for. I’m still contemplating, and I’m torn between two types of thinking on this.
On one hand, it seems like wisdom to say no to a lot during the holiday season. Perhaps Jesus is so crowded out of our hearts by the busy pace, stressful schedules, major purchasing, compelling consumerism, and overwhelming to-do lists running our lives that we desperately need to make some tough decisions and simplify our calendars, our spending, our decorating, etc. so as to make more room for Him. That very well may be what he’s calling many of us to do.
A more simple celebration of Christ might be more in line with the spirit of the first Christmas, when the coming of our King took place in the most simple setting imaginable, involving some pretty simple characters. Clearly, there was nothing fancy about the birthplace. You can’t get more plain than a barn. And the majority of people God involved in his Son’s birth story had humble occupations, with nothing special about them from man’s point of view. They led simple lives, and their worship of the Christ child was simple. I get that.
But I can’t forget the many examples of extravagance to be found in the Christmas story –
An outrageous birth announcement, complete with a multitude of angels singing praises and shining light on a field of shepherds. Nothing simple about that. No, it was downright scary how demonstrative this display of God’s glory! Perhaps considered excessive?
An intensely shining star marking the birthplace of our Savior – so big, bright, and unusual that it was visible from faraway places and drew men to him. Where’s the subtlety in that declaration?
An arduous journey three wise men took to find him, surely filled with adventure – even danger – and also costly to them in time. Their trek to Jesus was no simple ride. What was required of them in order to behold the Messiah was a complex undertaking. It was involved! And let’s not forget the exorbitant gifts they gave to him once they found him. Now I’m not knowledgeable on the substance of their gifts, but I can’t help wondering what a newborn would do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh anyway?? Valuable and costly and fitting for a king? Yes. Practical? I wouldn’t think so.
The story of Christ’s birth is full of examples of the simple, and in some ways, there was less when more was expected. But in other ways, there was so much MORE. More worship, more sacrifice, more giving, more glory.
As I seek the Lord’s will on what to say no to this holiday season, what to cut out of the plans or budget, I hope I’m guided by the principles of this paradox. This year, I’m asking him to give me a heart that truly worships BIG. There are some areas of my life that I need to simplify this Christmas, but I don’t want to pursue a simpler life just to make things easier. I don’t want my longing for simplicity to stem from laziness. I think we often confuse peace for ease, so the thought of saying “no” to more is appealing because it means less work, less stress, and maybe less guilt for not meeting others’ (or our own) expectations.
But I see something different this year in the biblical account of the first Christmas. I’m realizing the only acceptable motive for simplifying my Christmas celebrating is so that I can celebrate more extragavantly in the ways he calls me to! I only want to cut out the things that block me from experiencing the “bigger and better” aspects of the Christmas story – more extravagant WORSHIP, more extravagant GENEROSITY, more extravagant SACRIFICE, more extravagant TESTIMONY of who Christ is, more extravagant BLESSING of others.
Let’s not simplify the “stuff” of Christmas just for the sake of simplifying or because we crave ease, convenience, and less stress. I see the characters of the Christmas story willing to work to get to Jesus, and getting close to him this season may involve work for us. (Thank you, God, for grace, that getting to Jesus always brings rest!) I pray he gives me more of a willing heart for that kind of pursuit and discernment into what needs to go.
I’m convinced of one thing – the decisions he leads us to make regarding simplifying will be individual ones. Only HE knows what things are in each of our lives that prevent us from savoring him at Christmastime; only he can direct us on what to simplify this year. The outward adornments or festivities one person embraces to lead them to deeper worship may be the very things that keep someone else from getting there. His leading will be personal. We need to understand that living this out will look different for us all, just as every single character in the Christmas story experienced Christ in a uniquely beautiful way.
Has God shown you he wants MORE of your heart this season? Do you know what you need LESS of in order to get there?