Are budgets tight at your house this Christmas? Has your family had the 'Sorry-But-We-Have-to-Cut-Back-This Christmas Talk'? If so, you're not alone. More than half of those surveyed recently said they would be spending less this Christmas than last. Many are feeling the stresses of these uncertain economic times, either struggling already or wondering what the future might hold. And even if your family's not dealing with economic turmoil personally, it's likely you know someone who is.
Can we still overflow with joy at Christmas when times are tough and budgets are tight? Our continual desire for more and better 'stuff' quickly finds us viewing cell phones, 200 cable channels and the latest video games as part of our birthright. We seem inclined to want more and more. But God sometimes has different plans for us.
If the life of Jesus is any example of the difficult circumstances God sometimes calls His children to, it's clear that a comfortable, easy, safe and secure life isn't necessarily part of the deal. After all, Jesus could have been born into any family. It wouldn't have been hard for God to find a family for Jesus that was a lot longer on wealth, fame and creature comforts. One that would be able to provide the teenage Jesus with the latest brand name sandals and the sweetest chariot. Seems like a no brainer that God would have figured that out and provided a better earthly life for His only son, doesn't it?
But Scripture paints a different picture. It's clear that God the Father had a different perspective. He chose a simple, humble life for His only son. A life that would keep Jesus dependent on His Heavenly Father for His daily needs and focused on the main purpose God had sent Him to earth to accomplish. No distractions from the latest toys, games or gizmos.
Still in spite of His humble living conditions, this lowly carpenter had the audacity to announce to the world that He came to bring us abundant life, saying,
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
When we think of 'abundant' we tend to think of having plenty of stuff - more than enough food, lots of clothes, all the music we want on our iPods, presents overflowing under the Christmas tree... But when Jesus talks about 'abundant' we get a decidedly different picture - it's all about a life of grace and restored relationship with God. A life rooted in an unwavering faith and overflowing with a God-given joy and courage in the midst of whatever comes our way.
As followers of Jesus, we have a lot to learn about how to pray and stay connected to God in the midst of tough times. The apostle Paul, who seemed to excel at attracting trouble (shipwreck, prison, beatings, hunger), gives us an idea of what life's really all about when he writes these words from his prison cell while facing the possibility of imminent death:
When we trust in him, we're free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don't let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit-not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength-that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
God can do anything, you know-far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us (Ephesians 3:12-21).
The truly abundant life is all about Christ's extravagant love flowing through out lives, working within us deeply and rocking our world.
So whether your Christmas is overflowing with gifts or the gift pipeline is dry this season, look for opportunities to talk with your friends about Jesus and share the 'extravagant dimensions of Christ's love' with your friends. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
-Is Christmas going to be different for your family this year? If so, how are you feeling about that?
-Ask your friends if they've ever wondered why God sent Jesus to be born into such a poor family on that Christmas night long ago? Do you think that was good planning on God's part? Why or why not?
-Do you think it's possible to stay joyful and courageous in the midst of tough times? Why or why not? Listen, then share how the love of Christ brings strength and joy to your life regardless of your circumstances.
At some point this Christmas Season, push the distractions aside and talk to your friends about the ultimate gift Jesus came to offer to all mankind - the free gift of salvation which leads to an abundant life. That's what Christmas is all about.