I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there.
Christmas is no exception. This year my family started planning for the festive season on 16 September. I know this because we have meetings and I take minutes. And it’s really fun. Honestly.
Maybe you’re the total opposite. Maybe you refuse to acknowledge the Christmas decorations and music that sneak into shops from early November. Maybe with just a few days to go you don’t even have a list of possible presents, let alone anything wrapped and ready to go under the tree.
We’ll go to church, sing a few carols and realise that verses two and three of 'O Holy Night' are the absolute best and why don’t we sing this more often?
Either way, if you’re getting ahead or if you’re trying to pretend it’s not happening until the very last moment, we’ve probably got some similar expectations of what Christmas week will bring. We will think about our families, about the people that we can’t wait to see, or maybe the people we really could wait forever to see. We will think about food and drink, about the fact that we’re probably going to consume more in the next few weeks than our body is really ready for. We’ll think about the soundtrack to Christmas, that really Christmas isn’t Christmas without Mariah Carey, or that Joni Mitchell’s River is actually where we’re at.
We’ll also probably – hopefully – think about Jesus this week. We’ll do our daily advent readings and contemplate this world-changing arrival. We’ll go to church, sing a few carols and realise that verses two and three of O Holy Night are the absolute best and why don’t we sing this more often? We’ll give a little more generously, of our time or our money, to honour the king who gave everything.
Generosity is an incredibly powerful thing – and it can be an incredibly powerful demonstration of Jesus to those around us who don’t know him. But we all know that actually the place where it can be hardest to give most generously is in our own expectations, and to our own family.
Philippians 2 says:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2: 3-8)
At Christmas, with our families, generously valuing others above ourselves can be one of the hardest things to do. Generosity which says, “At this point, the most important thing is not my plan or my hopes, but the needs of others around me” can be excruciating. Generosity to choose to not have the last word at the annual Christmas lunch verbal fisty cuffs, or to forgive our parents or siblings or children who know exactly which buttons to push to wind us up.
If your family knows you’re a Christian then they’ll know where your counter-cultural attitude comes from...
But think about what happens when you have the same mindset as Jesus. In each decision you show the servant king, not clinging to self but offering self-sacrifice. If your family knows you’re a Christian then they’ll know where your counter-cultural attitude comes from, the attitude that backs up the words you’ve been sharing with them over the years, and the prayers you’ve been praying for them.
You already know where the pressure points will be next week – are you doing your best to hand them over to the new born king?
As you make your way home this weekend, or ready your space for visitors, how will you surrender your expectations to God? Can you find ways to make sure that you’re prepared to be generously self-sacrificial? You already know where the pressure points will be next week – are you doing your best to hand them over to the new born king?
When reality once again fails to match your expectations this Christmas and you have to generously give of yourself, remember that you are imitating the humility of the saviour who emptied himself for us. Because that’s basically the point of Christmas – to show the world that love, and total generosity, has come.