Holiday time is upon us—we are gearing up for dinners, decorations, gifts, and gatherings. ‘Tis the season to get hung up on the details--Should we add an extra centerpiece? Did I get the right number of gifts? Are the lights even working?--and miss the more important elements of these events. I appreciate the instruction that Jehovah gives to Moses about the Passover feast: “Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’” (Exodus 12:26-27 NLT). The people are reminded to the share the story behind the feast.
He wanted them to remember the main thing. In his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about keeping “the main thing the main thing.” Obvious, right? But he’s talking about focus— and remaining focused on the things that matter most is a real challenge in our distracted world.
And what is the main thing for this season of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas? In Christ’s day, He was asked to identify the most important commandment as well, and the Savior answers our question when he answers theirs: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:27-30 KJV). Simple. Love God and love your neighbor. With everything you have.
As we step into this season, it’s helpful to keep those main things in mind. Worship God and help your co-worker. Focus on the Divine and the next-door. Again, to reference Covey, we don’t prioritize our crazy holiday schedule; we schedule our holiday to reflect our priorities.
We fit in bell-ringing for Salvation Army. We read, ponder, and dramatize our faith stories with our children. We sing together, songs of God, love, charity. We have a tzedakah box in our home and follow the timeless Jewish practice of depositing daily a little money to be given to the poor. We buy a gift for an Angel Tree child. We give of ourselves--in prayer and action. We smile more, listen more, lose the sarcasm, and look for chances to serve.
And we say no to some things, too. No to excesses. No to irrelevancies. No to over-programming. This gives us room to say yes to relationships, yes to creativity, yes to peace. Never let a strand of lights to fix become more important than helping the three-year-old hang the ornaments.
Many families in our community have made it their tradition to spend their holiday helping with the local Thanksgiving Blessing, or Christmas Friendship Dinner, both outreach meals for the needy in our area. Others consciously follow a daily service routine, such as those recommended in Light the World text messages. Years ago, a neighbor family treated us to a little ring-and-run gift for each of the twelve days leading up to Christmas. (My children loved it, and wanted to do it themselves the following year!)
One year, a family we knew agreed to have a no-gift Christmas and donated their Christmas money. In the absence of big-ticket gifts, they decided to give small presents to each other, many of them handmade. The mother reported that it was a simple and beautiful celebration. “Once the children understood the need, they felt happy to be giving away our Christmas,” confided the mother. “Because there was no expectation for large, fancy gifts, we didn’t feel pressure to find ‘just the right thing.’ We had more time together because we didn’t spend a lot of time shopping and wrapping. The children didn’t have big expectations, so the smallest surprises were a delight. There was plenty of joy that Christmas morning. It was a memorable year.”
Make no mistake, if you schedule your priorities, your holiday will be different. It will feel different. It will look different. And, if you are really successful, you will no longer have a holiday; you will have created a holy day—a precious, sacred time, with precious, special people.
Happy Holy Days!
Want some service opportunities? Check these out:
To be a Salvation Army Bell Ringer, contact the Salvation Army office at 907 745-7079.
Thanksgiving Blessing, Saturday, November 19, Real Life Church in Palmer. To volunteer, be there at 9 a.m. ready to help.
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