Every year, I have the same vision in my mind. I picture myself rising early, sitting in the glow of Christmas lights with the Bible open on my lap, and soaking in the true meaning of Christmas. In my imagination, life moves at a slower pace. My ideal Christmas season includes entire days devoted to baking and reading books about baby Jesus to my children, wide-eyed with wonder.

Somehow, I manage to forget that at Christmas time my life is still my life. Grocery shopping, laundry, and sibling quarrels all must work their way into my schedule. On top of everyday life, more tasks pile on my to-do list: planning for out-of-town guests, shopping for gifts, and juggling holiday events. My vision of a perfect, peaceful Christmas never seems to match up with reality.

Once or twice, I’ve woken up in the New Year with regret in my heart realizing I completely missed it. I missed the opportunity to let the beauty of the season turn my heart in worship toward Jesus. I let the busyness of my schedule squeeze out the intentional moments of remembering what all the celebration is really about.

 

SPOTTING THE FALSE BELIEF

This season, I’m noticing the belief that underlies this pretty picture of holiday cheer I hold so dearly in my mind. I believe once my life is in order—the Christmas cards sent, the gift list checked twice, and holiday décor draped around the house—then I will have the margin to devote my whole self to the adoration of God incarnate. If that were the case, however, I would never reach the end of my task list.

Thankfully, encounters with Jesus don’t require picture-perfect order. He doesn’t ask me to tidy my heart, sorting through the messes in preparation to receive and worship Him. He does, however, ask that I lay down the idols of holiday trimmings and place Him on His rightful throne in my heart. Once there, He is faithful to fill my heart with the peace only He can supply, regardless of the external commotion. He is not repelled by the chaos and messy everyday moments of our lives.

 

MARY MAGNIFIES THE LORD

When I think of this balance—finding peace in the worship of God despite our circumstances—I think of Mary. God didn’t wait until she sorted out her life to intervene. From her perspective, the arrival of Jesus would surely have been easier to cope with if her marriage was finalized, if she were a bit older with more wisdom to rely on, or if she even had a crib to hold her newborn baby. But she did not miss it. She did not let the busyness, the upheaval of her life, or the scorn of others distract her from the wonder of God incarnate coming to Earth.

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant’” (Luke 1:46-48).

This Christmas season may not feel like the ideal time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The undercurrent of demands, pressures, and broken relationships pull on our reserves of time and energy. Just like Mary, we can find the time and space to glorify God in our hearts even though we may long to do so in a less tumultuous setting.

 

PLANNING PAUSES TO PURSUE PEACE

This Christmas, before I write out my shopping list, put up my Christmas tree, or fret over guest preparations, I am planning times and spaces for intentional reflection on the good news of the gospel.

Advent studies or devotionals are essential in keeping my focus glued to the One that is worthy of my worship. The holiday season is sprinkled with temptations to compare ourselves to others—parties we weren’t invited to and presents that look bigger and better than the ones we received. Distractions will always try to pull our focus, but particularly during this season, I find I have to work harder to tune out the noise. Daily time with God is essential to my walk with Him, and while I may be tempted to set it aside to accommodate a fuller schedule, I confess my need for Him is even greater right now.

I am resolved to let the beauty of the season point my heart to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Christmas lights on houses, bows on presents, and old-time holiday tunes aren’t spiritual reminders by themselves. But, if I let these simple Christmas adornments create in me a spirit of thankfulness, I can enjoy their beauty while inwardly shifting my focus to rejoice and delight in my Savior.

Amid the hustle and bustle, I am reminded my neighbors need these pauses of peace as much as I do, and the gifts of God are meant to be shared. Remembering this, I plan to use traditional Christmas customs to spread the hope of the gospel. I may do this by offering a bag of cookies and a prayer to a friend, including a Scripture card with a teacher’s present, or participating with our local church in outreach to the community.

 

SOMETHING GREATER

The reality of the Christmas season may never match up exactly with the idealized version in my mind, but if I examine that ideal version closely, I notice something. My imagined Christmas isn’t truly about achieving a perfect moment or creating a lasting memory. The thing I long for most is a demeanor and spirit of peace. And while we lack the control to conform our external world into one of peace—free from conflict, stress, or sickness—we do have access to the inner peace God gives us. That peace comes through the knowledge that we are not alone.

“‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23).

This good news carries us through every season of the year and is greater than any perfect Christmas we could ever envision.

What are some ways you can intentionally pursue peace in the midst of this busy holiday season?

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