Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special
Our First Christmas Decorations
“More tape please.” Yasmin said, as she stood on two Monobloc chairs, the same two plastic chairs she bought for the apartment when she realized her fiancé didn’t have furniture. “David! More tape! You’re not listening!” I did hear both times, but the first was heard in the man-dimension, that place where time slows and instructions seem more like arrows whizzing-by in the Temple of Doom, things to be dodged, not caught. “Sorry!” I quickly apologized and stretched my hand out to her so she could get the cut-up strips of double-sided tapes sticking to my fingers. “One more.” She said, as she carefully placed the double-sided tape on the wall and firmly pressed the end of a faux-pine garland with small green, gold, and red Christmas balls hanging from them “There!” she said. “Done”
She stepped down and we admired her handiwork. “Do you like it” she asked me. “Yup. Looks nice.” I answered. “I would like it better if we had a sofa under everything instead of this extra mattress.” She said. “But I’m happy we have something Christmassy”
“I’m happy too.” I answered. “I’m happy too.” I don’t think I’ve been that happy about Christmas ornaments since I was a kid, when the trappings signaled the season. But this was a different kind of happiness. As a kid, the joy came from the great expectations of festivities and gifts, but now, it isn’t that at all. It’s seeing Yasmin truly satisfied at making that part of our wall more beautiful.
A few days later, I was sitting on the floor beside a stack of books and my iPad, when I noticed figurines of a small Christmas Tree and an angel. A few minutes later, Yasmin texted me from the bedroom (like we modern folk do), “Did you see the Christmas Tree?” She seemed really excited about it. She loves these random small things. I’m more of a planner. I prefer to have things intricately planned and executed more than randomly cobbled together. I’m the guy who insisted Yasmin plan out the way the Christmas balls were attached to her garland in a consistent alternating of colors. But for some weird reason, these little out-of-place figurines beside the flat screen (also from Yasmin, as I had given my TVs away), looked like they belonged. I stood up and walked to the bedroom. “I saw the figurines.” I said. She smiled, and that smile cut through my cheapo heart.
I decided to increase next year’s Christmas budget.
Nothing like the sincere smile of someone you love to melt your heart.
My First Christmas Decoration
”…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
- Mark 4:19
I didn’t have much. My place was still furnished back then (it was the year before I decided to go minimalist), but I didn’t have a lot of cash in my account, in my wallet, nor in any of my pockets. It was a tough year like every year has been since taking over that company. But I had it in my heart to use the Christmas season to rekindle a love for God, a love I could feel was still alive, but suffocated by the worries of life and wrong decisions.
So I decided to do what my parents used to do with us as kids: Advent Night, and I went to the store to buy my first Christmas decoration: a wreath and Advent candles.
Here’s a quick reference on Advent candles:
There are three purple candles and one rose-colored candle on an Advent wreath. The purple candles are lit over the course of the first two and fourth Sundays of Advent. These candles represent prayer, penance and preparation for the coming of the Lord that each person is expected to undertake during the Advent season. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, and it represents joy. Gaudete Sunday is seen as a day of rejoicing because it marks the midpoint of Advent.
A white candle can also be placed in the middle of the Advent wreath. When used, this candle is often called the Christ candle. It is only lit on Christmas and represents the birth and purity of the Christ child. The candles are lit progressively throughout Advent to show the hope and expectation of the first coming of Christ and the anticipation of the second coming where Jesus is to judge the living and dead.
- [Advent Wreath](https://www.reference.com/holidays-celebrations/advent-candles-represent-fdfceb390d042274)
I took these and set them up at home, taking care to pray as I would light them at night. I remember celebrating with some friends as well. This is before we all started getting married and having kids. Everyone’s so busy these days. But I do remember a remarkable effect on me as I used an old tradition to trigger a new desire for Christ. Despite the brokenness of my situation, the anchoring practice of coming home, lighting the candles, and praying was good for my soul.
In an age where everyone is after the latest and greatest, that year, I was reminded that many times what we need is not some new technique or new insight. What we need are solid foundations, firm paths under our feet to help us walk steadily. I’m in the business and tech space, an industry that is obsessed with the future, but despite this, whenever I feel a little lost or even incredibly lost, I go back to those old paths, those old traditions taught to me, remembering old stories, implementing old practices, and performing old disciplines. These ancient paths have a way of grounding me, and helping me find my way.
The Ancient Paths
As I remember the lessons of past Christmases, thinking about all these old traditions and how times are changing fast, displacing many who refuse to change, and leaving many people lost. I was reminded of a question someone asked me about encouraging creativity in the church. He asked, “Where does creativity come from? From the leadership or from the staff? When it’s up to the leader, he reaches a point where his ideas aren’t that creative anymore. When it’s the staff, sometimes they take too many risks or fall away. How would you manage creativity without losing the way?”
I told him, “I don’t believe creativity comes from either. Creativity comes from loving your customer, from truly understanding them deeply and finding ways to serve them in higher impact ways. Look at the most creative organizations in the world. They’re not commanding creativity. They are sparking creativity by understanding their customers.”
What does that question have to do with this article? What does it have to do with Christmas? Well, it has to do with the wave of modern practices engulfing us today. I think it’s important for us to ask ourselves and our families, “How do we enjoy a creative and joyful Christmas without losing the meaning of the season, which is the Love of Christ?” Many times we think that modernization and innovation are at odds with tradition and foundations. But they don’t have to be.
A few weeks ago, I read:
Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
- Jeremiah 6:16
The words Ancient Paths stuck with me. The verse clearly said that finding this path would lead to rest for our souls. What an awesome promise.
So I did a little more digging, which is probably what I’m doing if you see me busily hammering away on my iPhone, ignoring everything going on around me. Here’s what I wrote in my notes:
What are the ancient paths?
- The way of faith: The way of complete trust and obedience
- The way of holiness: The way of transformative love
How do we NOT walk in the ancient paths?
The ancient paths are not about the age or the recency of the concept but about alignment with God’s original purpose of living each day in faith and transformative love.
When new ideas, new concepts, new innovations lead to less faith in God (less belief and less obedience) and less holiness (less transformative love) then we fall away from the ancient paths.
This led me to this decision:
Never be too modern, too edgy, too disruptive, too innovative for faith and holiness. We see this when:
○ Ideas of grace condone sin ○ Technology causes sin ○ Disruption causes division
The I also thought:
When old conventions, old policies, old traditions lead to less faith in God (less belief and less obedience) and less holiness (less transformative love) then we fall away from the ancient paths.
Never be too conservative, too formulaic, too defined, too stable for faith and holiness. As seen by:
○ When we live by convention not conviction, and sacrifice creativity, limiting transformative love ○ When we lead by policy not by purpose, destroying passion, and preventing transformative love ○ When we mistake tradition for obedience, fooling ourselves, and destroying our ability to impact with transformative love
The Ancient Paths, are the decisions we make that lead us to greater faith in God and greater transformative love. And t his simple verse gives an elegant way to discern our activities this Christmas:
Will this lead us down to more trust, more faith, and more holiness?
And connected to this:
How can I make this activity (whatever it is I am doing), a way that exercises faith and leads to more transformative love?
Let’s get practical.
- Don’t just give gifts. Pray for every person you’re giving to as well.
- Instead of just showing up for church, rekindle faith and spur loving action.
- Don’t just sing the carols. Worship with your soul through obedience.
- Don’t just get together with the family. Remind the family of your role in blessing others by being generous, especially to the poor.
I can go on but I don’t want you to think that this is about prescriptions. It’s not. Those were just ideas. The point is, this Christmas, go down the path that leads greater trust in God and greater holiness. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re buying gifts or fighting guilt, having a Turkey or scrambling for change, spending time with grandkids or learning how to buy your wife a gift she’ll like. The point is to ask yourself: Does this lead to greater faith and transformative love?
If yes, we should keep going. We’ll find rest. If no, we need to stop. We can’t head home if we run away from it. We won’t find heaven if we seek hell.
I’d like to share a part of an old post to end this one:
There was a time when my father had lost his business, we had to move into a much smaller house, had to get rid of our cars and really most of our stuff. Christmas, like for everyone else, was usually a big event for our family but this year we really didn’t have any money so the nicely wrapped giant boxes were missing from under a smaller tree, and the turkey was a big chicken with misplaced gravy (that’s another story). But even as we downscaled what Christmas was to me, God was setting up a backdrop for one the greatest lessons I would ever learn. He had to remove the trappings, the traps we fall into, that distract us from Him. Having very little resources, my mom decided that our Advent would consist of a walk around our tiny village – which was one small circle. My brothers and I were complaining of the flies and having to walk, actually, I think I was the only one complaining. I was such a grumbler looking back. When we got back to the house we realized we had left the keys inside. We were locked out. So there we were sitting on the curb, my dad, my brothers, me, and my mom, who was still trying to turn everything into a lesson. I think Joe’s, mine, and Joshua’s minds were thinking “Be quiet”, “Shut up”, ‘Candy” respectively. Then my mom said: “Maybe this is how Joseph and Mary felt being locked out of every inn. Imagine what they were going through. And Mary was pregnant. This is what we do to Jesus when we don’t let Him into our lives.” Years later to today, I still remember her lesson, but I think I’ve realized something deeper. More tragic than what we do to Jesus when we don’t let Him reside in our heart, is what we do to our lives – we leave it a dark empty shell with no light and no life.
I think about that Christmas lesson, and about all the other Christmas lessons, each of them a step towards greater faith and greater holiness as we draw closer to Jesus. This gives me peace. It gives me peace because I am reminded that though circumstances change, some seemingly for the worse, I only need to look for the step that exercises greater faith and leads to transformative love, and then take the next step, and the next. I may not know where these steps will take me through. I do know that the promise at the end is rest.
I’m really looking forward to a restful Christmas.
Merry Christmas everyone!