“You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed – Luke 10:41b-42a (NIV)
Anyone having seen a Nativity scene is familiar with the main characters of the Christmas narrative, Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, Shepherds, the livestock and of course, baby Jesus. Like many classic stories, the Christmas story has been retold countless times with many variations. One retelling, for example, introduces the character of the Little Drummer Boy.
In my narrative, I would like to introduce a new cast member whose wisdom and insights can help us reimagine what Christmastime has become for many in America in the early 21st century. My cast member addition is not a fictional character, but an actual historical figure. Enter stage right, Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself ? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42(NIV).
Mary valued the quality of fellowship with Jesus over the caliber of the food being served to him. She showed her love for Jesus not by serving him caviar but by offering him communion. Mary realized that because resources of time, energy and finances are finite, her choices must be finite. Instead of being distracted and drained by a myriad of options, she chose the one thing that was needed.
Contrast Martha’s reaction to that of Mary’s. Some folks do have a genuine gift of hospitality and for them making preparations is truly invigorating. Based on Martha’s reaction in the text, I don’t believe she fit into this group. Her first name may have been Martha, but her last name was not Stewart! I believe she was motivated by how she was viewed in the eyes of others. She was having a friend and important Rabbi over for dinner, and she wanted to have things just right. During biblical times, hospitality was highly esteemed and Martha wanted to impress. The irony is that in seeking to impress her guests, she demonstrated her inhospitality by ignoring them of her presence.
The Christmas expectations placed on us by retailers, family members, churches, others and ourselves can leave us feeling like hurried and harried modern-day Marthas. We can become distracted by the preparations of decorating, purchasing gifts, participating in or attending holiday programs, and preparing food. Due to the high rate of blended families, simply visiting all of the various parents, stepparents, grandparents and step grandparents can require a coordinated travel itinerary. Christmas can also be a time when family dysfunction rears its ugly head and your stomach may churn just at the thought of having to spend time with that one relative you consider toxic. If you have recently lost a love, perhaps you would prefer, as someone I know in this situation, to “cancel Christmas” this year.
How do we have a less stressful Christmas season this year? Let us heed the example of Mary. Let us be less concerned about what others think of us, and more concerned about what Jesus thinks of us. I don’t think he’ll be disappointed if our Christmas decorations do not rival the Griswolds and are not visible from outer space. In the final analysis, if we don’t finish all of our Christmas preparations, so what? At the final judgment do you think God is going be concerned if we sent out Christmas cards in 2013? Rather, I suspect he might be more concerned about how we expressed our love to those on our Christmas card lists throughout the year. In the vast sea of Christmas expectations, let us find safe harbor in the still water at the Savior’s feet.
Let us not focus on the pageantry of the season, but rather on the person of Christmas – the Lord Jesus Christ. As we celebrate Advent, let us always do so with a view toward Easter. As incredible as Jesus’ virgin birth was, it would have all been for naught unless he hadn’t chosen to die on our behalf. In this season of giving and receiving gifts, let our hearts resonate with the Apostle Paul’s when he penned these inspired words, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” – 2. Cor. 9:15.