The Gift of Christmas Present

Advent and Christmas are typically hectic times of the year. Just off our Thanksgiving turkey naps, we bustle through the shops and wait expectantly for all the presents we ordered to arrive. We make our lists and check them twice and maybe even camp out for a choice Black Friday deal. We play Tetris with our calendars, trying to fit in all the concerts, plays, live nativities, services, parties, and family celebrations.

But not this year, or at least not in the same way or to the same degree.

Our cyclic “unusually busy and stressful” time has morphed into a less busy one that we couldn’t have imagined just one year ago. If it is stressful—and it is for many of us—then the discomfort is popping up for new reasons.

For most, this Christmas will be quieter. We’ll see fewer people in person (and perhaps more on Zoom). We’ll eat smaller meals with mostly those closest to us. There will be less baking in bulk; less paper and tape.

Christmas Silver Linings

But more than any other time in this unusual year, Christmas holds a silver lining. This year:

When we put up the tree, we can do so with more care, less rushing, and no guilt however long it takes. We can think about how an evergreen represents everlasting life and how Christmas ushers in that possibility for Christians. We can spend a few moments remembering when and why particular decorations joined our collection. We can talk or write about those stories and pass them on.

We can read the familiar Biblical accounts of the Christmas story and also the prophecies of it. We can talk with each other about what strikes us, both in the various passages and in the collection as a whole. If you are a “pod” of one, you can bring friends together virtually for this meaningful exercise, make it a personal meditation, or work through it as a journaling topic. [[link “this meaningful exercise” to the Bible Clusters blog post]] Some folks might enjoy this “Christmas Story Timeline Visualization

Prophesies: Isaiah 7:14, 9:2-7, 40:1-9; Malachi 3:1-4; Micah 5:2-3,
Nativity: Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2; John 1:1-14, 3:16-17, 20:31

We, like the Wise men, can consciously travel toward the birth of our King. We can consider the various journeys to Bethlehem—for Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, and for us. We can prepare for and await the celebration of the birth of Christ—this is the type of anticipation that Advent is about.

Instead of going to a candlelit midnight service for communion, we can commune with God directly. We can talk to God about whatever is on our hearts, express our gratitude for what He has provided in our lives including the human birth of His only son, and ask for things that are needed or will bring growth.

Like Mary, we can hold these things in our hearts (Luke 2:19). We can contemplate them over a cup of hot chocolate or tea. We can listen to favorite old hymns and songs of the season or try new renditions. Either can remind us of the emotions brought to the fore by the incredible story of Jesus’s birth and what it has meant to man through the ages.

A Year For Opportunity

This year, we can do as many of these things as we want. This year, we have more time. This year, we can be more present to focus on the central figure in the Nativity. We can BE more present, instead of making ourselves the central figure and thinking so much about being the giver or getter of presents. Can we, this year, recenter our thinking around Christmas to highlight the Christ child better and begin some new, Christ-centered traditions that will live on after this pandemic?

Two (additional) exercises:

Instead of seeing the silver lining, are you stuck in the sadness of a  COVID Christmas? Do the winter holidays always make you sad? If so, consider how the problem is compounded for those who live alone. If you are lonely (or even if you’re not), imagine if isolation had been a constant for years now. Who in your extended circle is in that boat? Call them. Listen to them. Write them a letter. Both of you are likely to get a lot out of it. The impact—both external and internal—increases with repetition. You even could challenge yourself to do this exercise once a week until we’re back to “normal.”

Most artists have experience with being present—most artmaking demands it. When we are “in the zone” making art, time is an irrelevant construct, and we wholly engage with the task at hand. Make sure you take time to make art this holiday season. There are few better ways for artists to nurture themselves. Consider taking Scripture as inspiration.

Be Present This Season

If you are NOT an artist, what do you enjoy doing where you can be fully present in the moment? Turn off your computer and phone and do it! Some ideas: bicycling, baking, taking a long bath, reading, talking to a favorite friend, going for a walk, time with your pet, watch a sunset or sunrise (easier this time of year!), take a drive to nowhere, listen to music, stretch or exercise.

Prompts: How can I be more present in this season, this day, this moment? How can I be present with my emotions, my family, God? Right at this moment, what am I grateful for?

Merry Christmas from all of us at Engage Art!