The month of December brings us Advent, a season of preparing for the celebration of our Savior’s coming, but as many of us know, it is often also a season of distressingly expanded “to-do” lists that threaten to “undo” some of the joy we know we should have. If we’re not careful, all the doing and striving and fretting can take the merry right out of our Christmas.
Please understand that I genuinely appreciate those who put in the hard work that makes for wonderful Christmas celebrations, but on the other hand, I think Jesus wants all of us to have something more than a “Martha” Christmas wherein we find ourselves so occupied by the preparations that we miss out on the joy he has to give us. You’re likely familiar with the visit Jesus made to Martha and her sister Mary. (Luke 10:38-42) While Martha dutifully managed her “to-do” list, Mary sat contentedly with Jesus, listening. She chose – and received – that which was better.
“Be joyful always,” the Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians. (1 Thessalonians 5:16 GNT) We’d all like that, especially at Christmas! But it’s not something we can just add to our “to-do” lists. You can force a smile, but you can’t “do” joy. It is a gift that can only be received. It is a gift Jesus wants to give us. And once received, it is a gift we can pass on to others.
What if you exchanged some of your “to-do” list for a “to-receive” list? What if you decided to have a “Mary” Christmas, spending time “at the feet of Jesus” to take in what he wants to give, to hear what he wants to say? What if you put aside your “to-do” list for a while and considered the “I’ve-done-it-for-you” list of Jesus?
The prophet Isaiah spoke to the Israelites of their coming Messiah at a time when they were burdened by much more than their massive “to-do” list for rebuilding Jerusalem. They faced more than wrecked walls. Their horribly unhappy hearts were broken and devastated. They had grown far from God and they couldn’t fix that on their own. Only the Messiah could do that:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” claimed Jesus. (Luke 4:21 NIV) Jesus was anointed and sent by the Father to give good news, to bring joy to troubled hearts. This he has done! On the cross he mended the great divide between us and God. He forgives, heals, and comforts. He gives great joy!
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.(Isaiah 61:10-11 NIV)
Jesus wants to give you the gift of joy in this season! He wants to give it to you deeply, down to your very soul. I encourage you: put aside your “to-do” list – even allow for a “not-going-to-get-done” list – and simply receive what God gifted to you and to the whole world on that very first Christmas. With the encouragement of the wardrobe Isaiah describes, get all “dressed up” – or, better yet, all “blessed up” – for Christmas. Delight in Jesus! Rejoice in your God!
And once you’re all “dressed up,” remember that you have some place to go. With Mary, get up from sitting at the feet of Jesus and go with him into the streets. With the Shepherds, rise from bowing at the manger and go into the world. The joy you’ve been given is desperately needed by the people and peoples of the world. Consider adding this to your Gospel-driven “to-do” list: share with your neighbors and pray for the nations, that the Lord would come also to them, that this Christmas they also might receive this gift of joy!