The Christmas Spirit

Some things never change – and Christmas in 21st century America in one of them. You can’t wait for it to get here and when it’s over, you want to get that tree out of your living room, box up too many years of accumulated decorations, find a permanent place to keep all the new gifts, and return a number of other ones. In short, you can’t wait to get your house, your routine, and your life back to normal so you can deal with the post-holiday financial strain, emotional stress, and physical exhaustion. Merry Christmas!

But this year was different at our house. Due to our financial situation, I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas at all. In fact, I initially told my husband we should cancel it. But now that it’s over, I’m cherishing the precious memories of this very special Christmas.

It’s been a tough year financially. My husband is starting a new business and we’ve been without a regular paycheck for 15 months now. After years of living on an income that was in the top 3% of incomes in America, living on roughly 10% of that amount this year has been a challenge.

God has provided for our basic needs and I am thankful. But “just getting by” with the bare necessities of life kept me from getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Walking by stores filled with the toys, clothes, gifts, and gadgets that in years past we’ve been able to afford was disheartening. Visiting the food bank as a consumer instead of a donor was difficult. We’ve always had enough to buy what we wanted and still been able to give to others. But not this year – not even close.

I truly believed it wouldn’t be Christmas without being able to buy all of these things. I sincerely thought we should cancel any and all celebration since we couldn’t afford to “do” Christmas this year. But then something began to change – my heart.

It started slowly, but as I literally counted pennies and looked for creative ways to give my family gifts that didn’t cost money, something stirred within my heart – something I hadn’t felt for a long time. I was rediscovering the true spirit of Christmas.

After setting out the manger scene, my six year-old grandson wanted to put baby Jesus in the manger and suddenly I was grateful to God for His ultimate gift of salvation - the gift of new life from a baby born in a manger. After putting baby Jesus in the manger, he asked if we could read the story of the first Christmas from the Bible. My heart felt as if it would burst with joy.

What had I been thinking? Right then and there I asked God to forgive me for my selfish spirit of discontentment and my obvious lack of gratitude. I prayed for an attitude adjustment.

A few days later, we got busy putting up the tree - The tree that I wasn't going to bother with this year because there would be nothing to put under it. My daughter and her family came over to help us decorate it. The joy and pleasure that was evident on my grandson’s face during this family tree-decorating event was a priceless gift.

I experienced the deep peace and inexpressible joy of Christmas as I made and/or baked all of our gifts this year. Christmas began to feel more “real” to me than any Christmas I could recall as an adult. A few days before Christmas, my grandson and I spent an entire morning baking Christmas cookies together (just the two of us). These are the precious moments we remember for a lifetime.

When Christmas dinner was served at my daughter’s house and four generations of our extended family gathered around the table, I humbly gave thanks to God for reminding me that the Spirit of Christmas lives in the hearts of all who follow Christ. Later, around the Christmas tree, while watching kids and grandkids open gifts, my heart was overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I counted my blessings.

It wasn't about the presents. It was about the presence – the presence of God in my spirit… the presence of family and friends and neighbors in my life. What had I been thinking all these years?

God answered my prayer for an attitude adjustment. Tears began to flow as I recognized my selfish and ungrateful spirit. Many people are lonely and have no family or friends to be with at Christmas. Others have lost loved ones or are experiencing the pain of broken relationships and homes. So many live in the painful reality of our lost and hurting world.

We may have less money than we’ve had in years past, but I am rich beyond measure. I have the true Spirit of Christmas in my heart and Christmas will never be the same again. Thank you, Father.


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