Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Light Up The World

My most vivid memories from my childhood are from Christmas - Get Along Gang plush toys, the Snake Mountain and Castle of Greyskull playsets, the Santa Tracker reports on Christmas Eve, falling asleep listening to Elvis Presley's Blue Christmas album on tape and - possibly my favorite part of the entire season - Christmas lights everywhere. Despite the fact that most of us in my family are OCD in varying degrees, we didn't really have many traditions growing up. However, one thing we did almost every year, was to go Christmas light lookin'. Perhaps your family does something akin to this. We chose a night, usually within a week of Christmas, piled into the mini-van and drove to more affluent neighborhoods, staring in wonder at their elaborate holiday displays. My mother would drive slowly by the brightly lit houses, and we'd fall silent, basking in the nostalgic glow of the lights, the warm air of the heater and the cheerful tunes on the radio. The silence would be occasionally broken by an awe-struck outburst, “ wow! look at that!

This will be our first Christmas stateside in over 4 years. In recent years, Christmas has been a quiet and simple time, surrounded by close friends, light on pretense and liberal on love. We'd cook together, clean together, decorate, lounge, sing and pray together. While we missed family and friends from home, we were grateful for each other. The simplicity and lack of busy-ness gave us space for more reflection. We were afforded the opportunity to embrace Advent in a way few of us had before.

Something I'm struck by this season is the opulence of Yuletide in America. Of course, it's no secret that one of the hallmarks of the holiday season is extreme affluence. However, after a few Christmases in Asia, even a modest display seems completely over the top. In Korea, we had the most elaborate decorations in our friend group, and they cost us about $20. We had some friends with a Christmas tree. However, that was a hand-me-down, as were most of the ornaments and lights which bedecked their halls.

Perhaps it is because of the simplicity of this recent history that I am taken so aback by the extravagance I see about me this holiday season. Besides the obvious ostentation of that blackest of Fridays and it's Cyber accomplice, what I'm noticing most is the decor – lights, trees, garlands, stockings, socks, skirts, lawn pieces, nativity scenes, advent calendars, statuettes, fabrics, candles, roof ornamentation, wreaths, snow, cotton, tinsel, ceramics, trains and on and on and on. Our homes and lawns become elaborate displays of computerized luminescence,…and I can't help but be - almost offended at the expense.

Please keep in mind that I am trying very much not to judge. I've already confessed that one of my favorite parts of the season has been seeing the world around me transformed into a marvelously magical land, where snowmen walk, reindeer fly and everything, from home to tree, glows with the brilliant light of a thousand fireflies. For me, that's the most nostalgic part of the season…and a part of it that I still enjoy very much.

Mine is a changed perspective, though. Seasoned by seasons overseas, feeling frugal because I am currently without employment, and uncomfortably conscious of other needs which, in my mind, warrant the expense more than new decorations, a second or third tree, elves on shelves or an ugly sweater so wonderfully ironic.

It seems that everywhere I go, these days, I see families - families, men and women with children or elders - in parking lots, with cardboard signs, pleading for money - for food, for clothes, for gas…this wasn't happening (not here, anyway) four years ago when we left for Korea. I also know multiple friends who are either out of work, or not making enough money to be able to support their families, even enough to have their own apartments. Another friend of mine is a Christian missionary overseas, struggling on a very meager budget to even make enough to feed his family. He's working hard trying to bring the gospel to an unreached people group. This is more than a full-time job, and his efforts will be greatly hampered if he has to get a regular job, teaching English, for example, just to be able to provide for his most basic needs…where is the church in these people's lives? Why aren't we helping them more, sacrificing from our own budgets (not just from our surplus!) to provide for what they lack.

The Bible says that a godly woman is to be clothed in good deeds and humility, rather than extravagant clothes and jewels (1Tim 2:10). Paul says this type of adornment is “appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” This verse contains more than its fair share of controversy. The point is, however, that if this is how the Spirit inspired Paul to encourage women to dress in general, how much more might this principle ring true in reference to the Church, the bride of Christ?

Don't see this as a Christmas deco Jesus-Juke. I am not saying we shouldn't decorate. Decoration is an important part of celebration, and my friends, this is Advent; this is Christmas, the celebration of Emanuel, God with us! I think we should celebrate, and we should decorate. But isn't it worth considering, this question of adornment? Which speaks more to the glory of our King? Lights, trees, and ornaments? Or charity, grace, and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ? Which wardrobe will speak more highly of our mighty Savior to an unbelieving world?

I do think we should decorate as part of our Christmas celebrations. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. This is why we light up our world at Christmas time. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."
(Isaiah 9:1-3)

Perhaps what we should be questioning is how much we're spending…and where our priorities lay.

Merry Christmas.

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