Sat, March 02, 2024

Faith Friday: Simplify

Steve Swanson is the former station manager of 88.3 WAFJ radio station in North Augusta.

Like you, I am battling with some disbelief.  It’s the final month of 2023. Welcome to December!

It doesn’t take someone with extraordinary intellect to realize we live in a complex and complicated time. Whether it’s global affairs, politics, the economy, or the price of energy and groceries. There seem to be very few simple solutions to the challenges in the world around us and in our daily lives.

So, how do you approach December? With relief that the year is quickly coming to an end? Or with the hope and promise of a New Year? Do you face Christmas with dread and sadness, or anticipation and celebration?

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Since our kids are grown, live in other cities, and have their own families to focus on, Susie and I have gradually “downsized” our approach to Christmas and our Christmas decorations. Several years ago, we decided we would set up the manger scene first and take it down last. Last year, the only decorating we did was to set up the manger scene and the Christmas tree. This year, we are talking about just putting the manger on display and forgoing the other decorations. How does that idea sit with you?

Both our son and daughter have more than adequate decorations and lights inside and outside of their homes. It seems fitting with their growing families to celebrate in this fashion. There are also plenty of homes decked out in lights throughout our neighborhood. I am all for it! I enjoy our neighbors’ efforts to celebrate the light of the world.

This Christmas seems different somehow to me. We are fine focusing on the real story of Christmas. Despite all the “buy this- buy now” hype, we are content focusing on the story of our Savior’s arrival.

We used to labor over writing our annual Christmas letter. We wanted it to be just right and be certain that our kids’ exploits received the same amount of ink to be “fair.”  For a time, we also included several family photos. Perhaps, just to be sure the person receiving the letter would be clear what family they were reading about. We haven’t sent out a letter for years. It doesn’t seem to affect anyone.

One of the first years after moving to North Augusta, we decided to spend Christmas volunteering to deliver meals with the Augusta Rescue Mission. It was a gratifying way to use the day to focus on the needs of others and be reminded of all our own blessings. After deliveries were finished, we ended up eating our Christmas meal at Ryan’s buffet (back when it was still in business). When our adult children were in town the next Christmas, we invited them along and shared the experience of delivering meals once again. Seeing the needs of the meal recipients was really an eye-opening experience for us. A needed and important reminder and the catalyst for great family conversations.

In recent weeks, I have tried to remind you that no two holidays are the same and that we need to let go of expectations of the perfect family gathering or just the right gift. Instead, I urge you to focus on the story of Christmas, the people we love, and the hope that comes from our Savior.

It is ultra-easy, in fact practically effortless, to ring up credit card bills buying stuff for people who don’t need more stuff. It’s also easy to find ourselves swallowed up by the pace of holiday activities and unreasonable expectations. My solution to all of this is to simplify. Refuse to get swept away by the unsustainable pace we often struggle with this time of the year.

The real joy of Christmas is not found on any store shelves or in an online shopping cart. The real joy of Christmas is understanding that our Creator God came to deliver the solution to our emptiness and desperation, the hope for forever peace, and the promise of a Heavenly home with him.

After our family had attended a late Christmas Eve worship service in 1968, we went to my aunt and uncle’s home to eat. The TV was on in the living room because everyone was following the Apollo 8 mission that took three astronauts around the moon for the first time. Although the screen provided only a black-and-white picture, the message the astronauts sent back to planet Earth was profound and timely.

The three astronauts each took turns reading from the book of Genesis in a live telecast from the lunar orbiter while circling the moon. The words were familiar but were delivered from over 200,000 miles from Earth. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” They continued to read the first ten verses of Genesis chapter one. How wonderful to hear God properly acknowledged in a live broadcast heard and seen at the time by one-quarter of the world’s population!

We will soon gather with family to celebrate Christmas. I invite you to keep things simple, uncluttered and uncomplicated! Before December ends, I plan to light a candle or two, sit quietly, and make time to reflect on the past year, my blessings, and the story of the baby in the manger that changed everything.

If you find yourself bubbling over with joy this Christmas, share the joy!

If you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, acknowledge it and draw strength and comfort from others.

If you feel lost inside, reach out and choose to meet someone else’s needs. Perhaps anonymously?

If you have the hope that Christmas brings, don’t keep it to yourself!  Many others need to hear about it and come to understand and embrace that hope for themselves.

Instead of enduring December and the Christmas season, let’s do all we can to focus on what really matters and share the joy Christmas brings!

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