The weather was beautiful – perfect for an outdoor event on a December evening in Central Florida. The sun was beginning to disappear and the sky was doing that thing where the horizon glows like the edge of the earth is on fire. Early, as is often the case at this stage of our lives, we pulled into the parking lot of the big First Baptist church. It was already beginning to fill up and we paused to greet friends as we walked from the car toward the center of town. People were already gathering, claiming a spot to view the festivities.
The stage, situated opposite the Christmas tree that replaces the fountain as the centerpiece during the holidays, was already filled with singers, warming up and performing sound checks. We took time to get coffee and settled in on the street with thousands of our neighbors. It was small town America at its best.
The program began as the worship team sang the classic “Go Tell it on the Mountain”. People were sitting and standing shoulder to shoulder around the stage and looking around; you couldn’t see the end of them. They were clapping and singing the soulful spiritual. The song was first published in 1907 in a book by John Wesley Work, Jr. who was the first African-American collector of Negro spirituals. It seemed fitting that the worship leader from the Baptist church, a young African American man, led the community as we gathered and celebrated the joy of “telling the story” this Friday evening.
Local pastors, one after another, read from the Bible, sharing the account of the birth of Christ. Then, a single candle was lit and the flame was passed. It was windy, and there were thousands of people. It seemed like a nice thought but an impossible feat, to be honest. I can be pretty realistic pessimistic at times, but as in this case, I’m often wrong.
I watched the flame and the people as they handled it, shielding it from the wind and relighting it as needed. As I saw each person turning to the next, offering the light, my heart swelled with sacred realization. This was a beautiful illustration of the Gospel: every person passing the light of Christ to the next; carefully and intentionally sharing hope.
As the light traveled across and down the crowded streets, faces shone in the soft light of candles. In the midst of a great crowd of people, my heart was moved. I quietly and privately vowed to a change of heart. While I can’t escape the busier schedule or the responsibilities that come with this season, I will choose hope over stress and anxiety. These are just a few of the things that I hope for this Christmas:
- To bless my family with the gift of a joyful wife, mother and grandma
- To explain the concept of a budget to my “love to give” husband
- To enjoy all things in moderation: food, drink, work and play
- To enjoy the festivities that come once each year at Christmas
- Comfort for my recently widowed friend and others who will have their first Christmas without a loved one
- Peace for mommas everywhere, cause you know…momma stress
I’m relieved that my Christmas tree is decorated. I’m thrilled that we chose to spend Saturday evening with six precious friends who have been together with us through ups and downs for the last several years. I’m grateful for another Christmas shopping day with my sister, my friend.
I’m really glad that I chose to deal with the crowds last Friday evening. I was almost ready to throw in the towel and give up on the whole lot of stuff to do and places to be. I was just too tired and I didn’t have the time. But I ran across this late last week. I can’t even recall how I got to it:
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
I haven’t read the books or even seen the movies, but if you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll recognize the quote is from Gandalf. His flaming words made their mark on my heart. The choices are mine.
- On Friday night, “Light Up” was the best choice for us.
- On Saturday afternoon, despite tradition and a multitude of other good reasons to attend our town’s Christmas parade, I chose errands and decorating. It was wonderful to prioritize and complete tasks, and now I can enjoy our home.
- Saturday night, an intimate party with dear friends was a perfect time to relax and enter the joy of Christmas.
- Sunday? It was the perfect day with my sister to catch up on more than just a shopping list.
The demands of the season can be overwhelming. The honest truth is that we all have the same currency of hours, and necessities of life often dictate most of the budget. Discretionary spending of time is where the difference is made. I’m vowing to consider every minute as if it were a precious gold coin. I won’t clutch it tight in my hand because thankfully, time, must be spent as it comes. It is a gift to be used and enjoyed and this Christmas season I hope to have no “spender’s remorse”.
May your Christmas be filled with the things that make your heart leap, whether the hustle and bustle of a theme park or mall, the magnificence of a production akin to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular or the blessing of an evening at home.