An Empty-Handed Christmas

ELIZABETH GARN|GUEST

The day after Thanksgiving is a pretty big day for me; it’s the day I start getting ready for Christmas dinner. It takes me a full month because, as I’m sure you can imagine, there is a lot to do! There are Christmas trees to be trimmed, mantles to be decorated, and candles to be lit. There is food to be planned, gifts to be wrapped, and centerpieces to be arranged. And then, of course, there is the cleaning… So much cleaning.

I want everything to be beautiful, sparkly, almost magical. I want to have good things to offer my family and want everything to be… perfect. Can you relate? I grew up in a home where the true meaning of Christmas was paramount. I have understood the importance of the incarnation for as long as I can remember and yet every year in the face of picture-perfect ads and Pinterest-worthy Facebook photos I find myself slipping into a place of trying to measure up. And It’s not just with my family, this feeling of needing to be enough seeps into my very relationship with Christ.

I know Christmas is about worshiping the Savior King and yet time and time again my heart deceives itself into thinking that merely showing up is not enough. I want to have something to offer, some worthiness of my own, not to earn my salvation but to somehow thank him. At Christmas, I become deeply aware of the magnitude of his gift, and deeply aware of how unworthy I am to receive it. So I try to dust myself off, work hard, and bring something, anything, of value to my king. I’m afraid showing up empty handed will not be enough, and yet that is exactly what we are invited to do.

What the Shepherds Taught Me

We don’t know much about the setting. We don’t know if it was unseasonably warm, or if icy winds pushed the shepherds closer to their fires. We’re not sure if it was clear and bright, or if clouds hid the stars from view. What we do know is it was close to Bethlehem, it was night, and the shepherds were doing what shepherds do… watching their sheep. Oh, and we know they were shepherds. Not quite the lowest of the low, but still men who dwelled on the outskirts of society. They worked hard, but at a job that left them scraggly and smelly. When most of the people in their world had homes, they had tents. Where others had dirty feet, they had dirty… everything. And they slept with farm animals, so there was that too.

We don’t know anything else about them except on that night, they were blessed among people for it was to them God sent his heavenly messenger. And what a message it was! The Christ has come! Go and see him! At first, they were terrified. Who wouldn’t be? But as the words of the angel sunk in, that fear turned to joy and the Bible says they, “went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:16, my emphasis added)

They didn’t wait, question, or hesitate at all; they simply got up and ran. But what has struck me over the years is that they did nothing to ready themselves. They didn’t bathe, wash, or change their clothes. They didn’t hand-make presents or even scrounge up gifts. They had absolutely nothing to offer and nothing to make them worthy to be there. They just ran, empty-handed, and found the savior their hearts had been longing for. They came because they were invited.

My hearts wants to believe I need to do something to be worthy of coming to Christ, but the truth is, like the shepherds I am invited to come just as I am. We all are. (Matthew 11:28)

There is nothing wrong with wanting to host a beautiful Christmas celebration. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to clean and decorate. But we cannot let those things be the focus of our holiday. More than that, we cannot let our hearts believe, even for a moment, that we need to clean ourselves up in order to approach our Lord. He isn’t asking us to get our act together. He isn’t demanding we fix ourselves up before kneeling at his feet. Instead, he is inviting us to come as we are; messy, broken, and yes, even empty-handed.

As this Christmas season gets underway, I’m praying my heart would be like those of the shepherds. That I would run quickly and worship deeply. My baseboards might be dusty come Christmas evening and there might be one or two fewer appetizers on the counter, but my heart will have drawn nearer to my Savior and there is nothing sweeter than that.

Dear friends, let’s be encouraged this Christmas by the shepherds and remember that we too are invited to worship as we are; dirty feet, road-weary scars, longing hearts, and empty hands.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Garn

Elizabeth Garn (MATS, Reformed Theological Seminary) is a wife, mother, writer, and speaker, geek, and lover of Swedish FishShe and her family live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where they attend Kings Cross, PCA. She spends her days hanging out with her three goofy kids and her evenings with her amazing husband. You can read more at her website and follow her on Twitter.

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