Christmas has a way of stirring up vivid childhood memories, doesn’t it? I can almost feel the starched petticoats under the matching dresses that my sisters and I wore to church on Christmas. Or the year when I got that favorite stuffed doll in a calico dress with long, braided red hair made of yarn. Years later (when my taste was a bit more refined) there was an extravagant gift. I had admired it every time I visited the antique store with my mom. It was the most exquisite set of intricately carved ivory horses from China.

I know just how privileged we were growing up. My childhood was blessed in many ways and materially speaking, we had all we ever needed and more.

But when Greg and I were young marrieds (at 21 and 18) and expecting a baby, we were poor as church mice as the saying goes. With no medical insurance to pay for a hospital birth and a whopping $20 a week for groceries (after rent was paid) come Monday, there was hardly a can of beans left in the cupboard.

So that first December, with so little, we took a day trip across the border into Tijuana to buy cheap clay pots we could paint and give as gifts. Looking back over forty-seven Christmases together, that one memory stands out above them all. How simple it all was. I loved our first tiny Noble Pine tree decorated with strings of cranberries and popcorn!

That Christmas, our little church on the corner of Adams and Arlington overflowed with young people (many just out of high school) and some like us, starting their adult lives, planning their families. By the world’s standard, most of us had precious little—but we were desperate for Jesus, we had peace with God and each other, and a joyful gospel message to share. We sang our simple choruses and a few old hymns at the top of our lungs!

What Christmas memories do you have? How do they shape your perspective on where you are this year?

In these uncertain days, with so much fretting about politics, pandemics and persecution, it is tempting to join a different sort of chorus—a choir of loud complaining voices. We find it so easy rehearsing all we have “lost” in 2020.

Good news is hard to come by, even in some pulpits.

It is hard not to feel sad if all we listen to is the media. We are prone to fret, we worry, we give in to self-pity. It gnaws us on the inside and produces nothing, right? So, what should we—what must we—do this Christmas?

Look forward!

As Christians, our future is secure. We are not doomed to a life of ongoing, unraveling and meaningless existence. All that the Lord has done, and is doing, is moving towards a good end. After all, history (including your history) is HIS story and it will have a glorious conclusion!

Our Lord will have His final say over all time, all people, all kingdoms. Have you learned yet that your main happiness is not found in this world? We are living on borrowed time, so let’s invest it. Let’s be looking forward and be ready.

Look upward!

Don’t just vent your fears and frustrations (don’t deny them either). We must learn to process them in light of who our Heavenly Father is and what He has promised. Redirect your feelings in prayer, lament, cries, intercession, praise, worship—and then, leave your burdens in His hands. That’s what it means to “commit your way” to the Lord.

Trust in Him, that He will do what He has promised. Remind yourself that it may not always be in our time, or in our way, but look to Him. Find your heart’s desire in who He is and what He has done.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4

Get busy!

Be occupied with the things that must be done, and do good! “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not men” (Colossians 3:23). See what God has placed in your hand and use it to serve others. Self-pity only leads to a shrunken life that turns inward on itself. It can lead to justifying all kinds of wrong behavior. We don’t want to add a guilty conscience to an already heavy heart.

So I often tell myself, “Self, stop fretting!”

We all should try to remember that throughout the centuries believers have had every reason (come what may) to celebrate the coming of our Savior into this weary world. This year, so many in the church have suffered massive loss. We aren’t exempt from sorrow.

So what do we have to celebrate this Christmas? Is it financial security? Is it having a perfect tree with costly presents in a beautifully appointed home? No. I suspect it’s closer to the reason why that first Christmas with Greg holds such precious memories for me.

This Christmas, like every Christmas, is for celebrating the greatest gift ever given. The gift with an incalculable price tag, freely given to us.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty He could make you rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9

Think of it. Jesus became poor by setting aside His glory in heaven to enter time and space. He took on human limitations and came as a helpless baby. He lived humbly and served others. He became personally familiar with every test and trial that you and I will ever experience. He suffered and laid down His life for us.

All this, given to us. Having all our sins forgiven, peace with God, and the sure hope of eternal life makes us richer by far than our wildest dreams.

Whatever this particular Christmas holds for us, nothing can take away the priceless gift we’ve been given in Jesus Christ, our Savior. The gifts under the tree may be meager, but we still have reason to sing His praise at the top of our lungs! We can make this a Christmas to remember and rejoice in Him.