Galatians 4:4-11 But when the right time came, God sent his Son . . . to buy freedom for us, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts . . . So now, why do you want to become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. . . I plead with you to live in freedom from these things.
If you, like me, have lived to sixty-something, waves of memories wash through the holidays. I could write many pages about childhood Christmases at our home in the village of Nebaj in Guatemala, totally at odds with the culture of our neighbors. In college, my sister Jan and I spent one Christmas on campus because we couldn’t afford to go home. We “collected” other students like us, baked cookies, played hilarious games, sang carols, and created warm and winsome memories.
Then came slowly-evolving traditions for Dave’s and my new family as our children were added one by one and we celebrated first in Wheaton, then Port Huron, then Brazil, and finally in Pittsburgh.
I haven’t counted how many of those Christmases were spent in hospitals in each of those places. Some of those memories are lost in a fog of weariness and worry, not just about Karis, but about making that particular Christmas special and memorable for our whole family, despite our circumstances. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to get my tail in a twist over trying to make all my beloved ones happy, as if what I can do for them matters more than just being together, loving each other, and remembering that the Birthday Child was himself displaced, by his own choice, for us.
So even before Advent begins, I’ve begun thinking about what I really want for this Christmas. I’ve been thinking about this Scripture, and the price Jesus paid for me to be free from the demands of my inner critic to “do enough.” And to do it “well enough.” What am I really trying to achieve by all the pressure I put on myself? What if instead we do things so simply that there’s time just to sit together, and deeply hear each other, and encourage each other?
The “spiritual principles of this world” that I’ve lived by for much of my life definitely have to do with earning favor with God and other people. Doesn’t that word “freedom” sound like a delicious alternative? I don’t know yet exactly where this is going, but I’m pretty sure it will be at least one of the themes I’ll be thinking about this Advent. I hear the Lord saying, “Be still, and listen. Let me teach you what true freedom can look like . . .”