It is the Christmas season, and I love it. I love the opportunity to slow down and spend time with friends and family. To reflect on the past year and pray toward the year that will begin. I love the special food and get-togethers. I love that the center of it is a celebration of Jesus. I love remembering all the reasons that Jesus appeared—to conquer the darkness, to fulfill the law, to be a sacrifice for sin, to triumph over the grave for Himself and all who believe in Him. To be Emmanuel –“God with us”.
Because I love this season and the primary reason for it, I find that every year I have to beat back conflicting claims on my time and priorities. I can get so busy with the Christmas cards (nice job, those of you who pivoted to Thanksgiving cards) and the presents and the scheduled events that I start to lose my focus on the center of Christmas. I am confident that the devil loves this strategy – where he cannot get us to sin through evil things, he will try to get us to sin by prioritizing good-but not ultimate-things. Consider the story of two sisters:
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 few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Matthew 10:38-42).
Martha was working hard to make sure her guests were looked after, that the dinner was a success. I dare say she did not want to let Jesus down by having this party in his honor fall flat. She got overwhelmed. And then she sees her sister, not helping with the food or dishes or guests. Just sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening. I can picture myself getting frustrated and thinking, “I am the grown up who knows what needs to be done, while they just sit back and sponge off others.”
That is why I am so glad that Jesus calls Martha to task – because I am like her. I can feel self-important and burdened by all the duties I have designated as essential at Christmas time. Jesus tells Martha she has gotten “worried and upset about many things – but few are needed – indeed only one.” That one thing is to be together with Jesus. To listen to Jesus. To learn from Him. To worship Him.
Did all that listening make a difference? If you fast-forward to the last week of Jesus’ life, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus are at another dinner party. Mary will anoint Jesus – for his burial. This is recounted in all four gospels, and Jesus said, “wherever the gospel is preached, this will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). I used to wonder why this was so significant. You see, Mary saw something no one else saw. She saw that Jesus was going to die – she understood God’s design and purpose and gave her most treasured possession (an oil worth a year’s wages!) to honor him for his sacrifice. Not even his disciples understood Jesus’ plan – but Mary did.
So let’s continue to fight for the center of Christmas this year. All the bustle and festivity will be wonderful – but it will pale in comparison to the things we might come to understand if we sit at Jesus’ feet awhile.