This little bit of decorative joy joined our family during our first year of marriage and it found a place on a low hanging limb on our Christmas tree. Our little mutt dog, Nikki, discovered that when she nosed this little ornament it made a wonderful little sound. Every year the Santa bell was given a place of honor on a low hanging branch and Nikki would always find it and ring it again. We still hang it low even though our beloved pooch is no longer with us.
I asked our church family about their favorite decorations or their most memorable Christmas gift and the responses were touching, engaging, hilarious, and meaningful; from the man who actually got a Red Rider BB gun (and he still has both eyes!) to the lady who choked up as she talked about hanging decorations made by her children years ago. It was a great time of sharing about the external things that make Christmas special for us.
In 1 Samuel 16:7 God reminds Samuel that they don't see things quite the same way. God tells Samuel, "You're looking at the outward appearance, I'm looking deeper. I'm looking at the heart."
God knows our propensity to get caught up in the externals and miss the internal significance.
- The second of the the Ten Commandments is "No idols!"
- The Pharisees and other religious types of Jesus' day asked for a sign and He refused telling them the only sign they would get was "the sign of Jonah" as He referred to His pending death and resurrection. They too were looking for some tangible hook on which to hang the intangible fact of faith.
- The Old Testament prophets make for interesting reading as, time and again, God takes His people to task for their worship. Phrases like "Away with the noise of your music!" or "Oh that you would shut the doors!" or "I will not listen to your prayers!" fill the mouths of the prophets.
If ever there was a season for us to be aware of this it is Christmas. There is no other time of year that is so "externals" intensive: decorations, shopping, gifts, food, family gatherings, wrapping, bows, ribbons, stockings, Christmas cards, clothing that only gets worn this time of year. The list is long and the effort immense to pull all of the external things together to make it "Christmas."
What if none of it happened?
Let that question hang there a moment....
God is not the least bit concerned with the...
- Family visits
- Shopping trips
- Christmas caroling
- Baked goodies
- Christmas cards
- Charlie Brown's Christmas (or any other "favorite")
- Smell of evergreens in your home
- ____________ (you fill in the blank)
As disinterested as He may be with the externals God is intensely interested in the condition of your heart. As He is looking, and there is nothing hidden from Him, what does He see?
- Desire for stuff?
- ________ (you fill in the blank)
Enjoy this bit of wisdom from Dr. Seuss as you consider the relative importance of the external and internal this season. May I encourage you, faithful blog reader, to pause long enough to read this out loud?
"It was quarter past dawn...All the Whos, still a-bed, All the Whos, still a-snooze When he packed up his sled, Packed it up with their presents! The ribbons! The wrappings! The tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!
Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit, He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it! "Pooh-Pooh to the Whos!" he was grinch-ish-ly humming. "They're finding out now that no Christmas is coming!" "They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!" "Their mouths will hang open a minute or two Then the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry Boo-Hoo!"
"That's a noise," grinned the Grinch, "That I simply MUST hear!" So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear. and he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low. then it started to grow...
But the sound wasn't sad! Why, this sound sounded merry! It couldn't be so! But it WAS merry! VERY!
He stared down at Who-ville! The Grinch popped his eyes! Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?" "It came without ribbons! It came without tags!" "It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store." "Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
And what happened then...? Well...in Who-ville they say That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!" (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss)
Maybe our hearts need to grow a bit this season. Maybe they need to be set free from the constraints of the externals in order to enjoy the meaning of the heart of the season. Perhaps we need to draw near to God with more than the outward motions of the season and seek Him with the inward movements of the heart.
You see, the joy of Christmas is not found in the externals but in the internal. It is truly a matter of the heart.