Holidays = Holy-Days?
Are you offended when someone says, “Happy Holidays,” instead of, “Merry Christmas”? Don’t be. The word “holiday” actually comes from the Old English word hāligdæg, which literally means holy-day. Instead, say, “Thank you!” Then ask them why this time of year is holy to them? That should throw them off! Then tell them why Christmas is a holy time of the year for you. There’s a simple evangelism strategy for you. End of blog? Not quite! In fact, the purpose of this blog isn’t evangelism, it’s about turning our holidays into holy-days.
In all the hustle and bustle, December can feel like anything but holy. It’s often so jam packed that we’re exhausted by the end of it. What if there’s a better way to approach the holiday season? If you want to do that this year, then you’re going to have to deal with the disease of busyness.
In fact, if you’re a wife, I have a simple tip for how you can unbusy your holidays by getting your husband to help a little more around the house. The trick is to give him a job that you know he doesn’t want to do, and when he complains about it, offer him another job instead, the one that you actually wanted him to do in the first place! All it takes is knowing a little bit about the way a man’s mind works.
A survey on men’s attitudes about Christmas shopping may provide useful information for busy wives. Apparently, many men dread holiday shopping so much, they will do almost anything else. Instead of going Christmas shopping, most men would rather watch their favorite sports team lose. As an alternative to venturing into crowded stores and shopping for gifts, many would rather bake cookies. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but stats don’t lie: If you want your husband to help bake cookies, ask him to go Christmas shopping instead.
Busyness can zap the joy out of our holidays. If you want Christmas to come and go in the blink of an eye, stay busy. Fill your schedule with so much that you can’t keep up, and you won’t even remember it. But if you want to break busyness and take back your holidays, then take a note from Mary.
Mary, Martha, and Jesus
Take a break right now and read Luke 10:38-42.
The story of Mary and Martha is widely known and widely misunderstood. Every time I talk about this passage, I’m always confronted by one of Martha’s defense attorneys in the church lobby. “What’s wrong with working hard? Mary should have helped out a little more. My client was doing everything while her lazy sister was just sitting around.”
This isn’t a story about laziness or a strong work ethic. It’s about worry, anxiety, and busyness, and the negative effect they can have on our relationship with Jesus. And it can have a very negative effect. The holidays only ramp up our already busy lives. How can we break the habit of busyness this Christmas season? The answer is that we need to reframe the way look at busyness. We need to see that breaking busyness is an act of discipleship, an act of defiance, and an act of focusing.
Breaking busyness is an act of discipleship.
If we’re going to break busyness, we need to see it as more than just, “Yeah, I could use a little more ‘me-time’ in my life.” Busyness affects more than your leisure time. It affects Jesus’s call to take up your cross daily (Luke 9:23). Jesus invites you to be a daily disciple. He wants you to wake up every morning, look at your schedule, and think, “How can I be a disciple here, here, and here today?”
“I’ve got a 10:00 meeting. How can I represent Christ there? Got it! I’ll grab coffee for everyone. I’ve got a time.”
“I’m picking up groceries at 4:00. How can I be Christ to whoever brings them out? I know! I’ll get out and help them load it – they are my groceries after all – and I’ll ask if there’s anything I can pray for them about.”
“The kids have a game tonight. How can I help them understand that sports are a tool and not the most important thing in life? A-ha! I’ll control my temper when the referee makes a bad call and go around to every family after the game to say something kind about their kid.”
See how busyness affects discipleship? Each one of those scenarios takes time. A busy person doesn’t have time to stop for coffee, pray, or connect with others. Those people will even think you’re a little weird because busyness is hardwired into us. A busy person simply doesn’t have time for hospitality, prayer, kindness, or discipleship. “Thanks for the invitation, Jesus, I appreciate it, really, but I just don’t have the time. Maybe when things slow down a little bit we can get together. I’ll send you some dates.”
Breaking busyness must be rooted in our desire to grow as a disciple.
It requires pausing and positioning. Pause life and position yourself in a place where you can actually hear the Lord. Notice where Mary positions herself in relation to Jesus. She’s sitting at his feet, Luke says, and was listening to his word. He’s not giving us a random fact. He’s utilizing a common Jewish saying. “The idiom ‘to sit at someone’s feet’ meant to study with that person or to become his disciple (Garland, 453).” What Luke is really saying is that Jesus is discipling Mary. She has stopped whatever it is in her life that would distract her from this moment and has positioned herself in a place where she can clearly and unhurriedly listen to his word.
You cannot clearly hear the word of the Lord if your life is like the inside of a pinball machine. You must stop, leave busywork behind, and position yourself near the Lord, sit at his feet, if you want to hear his voice (John 10:27).
Breaking busyness is an act of defiance.
As non-Jewish people living outside first-century Israel, we completely miss the shock value of this story. Even the Gentile people Luke is writing to would have thought this story odd. Here’s the shock that we miss – by sitting at Jesus’s feet, Mary is breaking all convention. She has positioned herself in a place that, at the time, wasn’t meant for her.
This is part of what makes Martha so upset. Women weren’t disciples. Women weren’t allowed educations. They didn’t get to study scripture, school under a teacher, or sit at the feet of great Rabbis. It simply wasn’t their place. When she voices her complaint, Martha is essentially saying, “Jesus, tell my sister to get back in the kitchen where she belongs!”
And maybe the religious establishment would have approved of Jesus a little more had he agreed. Maybe the Pharisees would have said, “Well done, Jesus. Way to uphold the status quo.” Maybe he wouldn’t have been crucified at all had just said a few more conventional things or had done a few more things the way they had always been done.
But he doesn’t. Jesus says, “You’re the one who is not where they need to be. You’re in the wrong place, Martha. In fact, you’re everywhere other than where you need to be. There’s a place for you right here, at my feet. But if you want it, you’re going to have break some convention.”
It’s true for us as well. Following Jesus isn’t always going to fit the mold of the culture around us. If you’re going to accept Jesus’s invitation to daily discipleship, it’s going to look a little odd sometimes.
Christmas With the Kranks
At a certain level, we all need to be a little more like the Kranks. Do you remember that movie, “Christmas with the Kranks”? It’s the story of a family that decides they aren’t going to participate in all the normal Christmas stuff this year. They’re not going to decorate their home. They’re not going to put up a tree. No Christmas cards. No elaborate parties or dinners. But what happens? When the town finds out that the Kranks are skipping Christmas it creates a scandal and everyone unites to pressure them back into the status quo.
In our culture, busyness is just expected this time of year. We wear our busyness like a badge of importance. If you aren’t busy, people may not only think you’re strange; they may also think you’re lazy. You may feel pressured to go buy more presents, even when you know you have enough already, to attend one too many social events, to fill your calendar with one event for the kids after another. Your family may pressure you to come spend all your off days at their house.
I’m not sure all the things that keep you busy during the holidays. Some of them you may love, some of them you may dread, some of them you may do simply because you’ve always done it. If you feel like your holiday schedule is suffocating you, talk to your family and take some time to reevaluate. Don’t spend your holidays running round the kitchen when Lord is inviting you recline at his feet.
Breaking busyness takes focus.
The word that Jesus uses for worry when he’s talking to Martha is the Greek word merimnaō (μεριμνάω). It means to be divided in mind, distracted by many things. That’s a good description of the holiday season, isn’t it? “My mind is in a thousand places, and I don’t know what’s most important.”
If that’s the symptom, what’s the cure? The cure is focus. Focus on one thing at a time until it’s accomplished. It’s a good psychological tip. But Jesus didn’t come to give us a few good life hacks. Jesus wants us to see that life on earth is preparation for life in eternity. And the single most important thing that helps prepare us for eternity is our relationship with Jesus.
How do I know what things in life are worthy of my time, effort, energy, or money? Here’s a simple guideline: If it will strengthen your relationship with Jesus, then it’s worthy. Everything else is secondary.
Mary seems to have understood this. Martha on the other hand…well…Martha was figuring it out. So, all you “Marthas” out there, let me ask you a few questions to see if we can’t help your focus problem.
Martha, what do you think Jesus cares more about? A clean kitchen or a clean heart?
Martha, would you rather your adult children say, “Our house was a little messy growing up,” or “My parents were too busy to play with me”? One of those is going to greatly impact their relationship with Jesus, and it’s not a messy house. Parents, your presence is the best present you can give your kids this Christmas season.
Martha, do you think Jesus will be happier with you because of all the great work you did in his name – all the speeches you made, all the demons you cast out, all the miracles you worked – or because you were patient enough to sit at his feet until his will became your will, his character your character, his life your life?
Focus on the things of life that will not be taken away from you. Prioritize eternal things and watch your worry and anxiety fade away.
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