Summary: The holiday season has become known for being harried and hurried, but this advice from Paul's letter to the church at Philippi will help us survive the season with our faith in tact.
It’s here! Everyone gets excited as the holiday season approaches. We live in anticipation of the family, friends and memories, but by the time it’s all over, we’re pulling our hair out. Others of us, even before the season starts are already feeling like the woman who wrote to Rev. Billy Graham for advice asking, “Please help me have a good attitude about Christmas this year. The holidays are always such a hassle, and I’m already beginning to dread them.” That’s because we know our holiday often ends up like Arnold Swarzenegger and Sinbad in the film Jingle All the Way (show film clip here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTcFsdIJ_Xo ).
The holidays are not a time to be dreaded, but that’s exactly how too many of us respond as they approach. I think as we reflect on Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he offers some practical advice we can follow to help us have the best holiday year ever…and, it works pretty well the rest of the year, too.
The first bit of advice that Paul offers that will help us survive the season is “think to thank.” Paul says in verse 3: “Every time I think of you I give thanks to my God.” There is something incredibly fulfilling found when we offer gratitude. We’re headed this week toward Thanksgiving, so it just seems appropriate that the holidays begin with Thanksgiving. That’s so counter to our culture where stores go straight from Halloween to Christmas, and even some stores have Christmas decorations out before Halloween has passed. If we begin with gratitude, it helps to set the tone for the entire season. Paul mentions a number of things for which to be thankful.
First, we can be thankful that we are not alone. In verse 5, Paul says he is grateful for the “partnership” he has shared with the Philippians. We can remember and be grateful that we’re not the only ones stressing out over the holidays. That seems to be the modus operandi these days. It’s all about hurry, stress and anxiety and it’s not supposed to be that way. Unfortunately, the holidays are also one of the loneliest times of the year, too. As we are grateful that we have the body of Christ that grounds us, it becomes imperative that we don’t allow others to be alone. There are those who have lost loved ones in the past year and this will be their first holiday season without them. There are others who have gone through a divorce, or in the midst of a separation. Still others are experiencing the empty nest syndrome for the first time, and all these persons will experience anxiety and loneliness. We need to be grateful for the body of Christ that allows us to partner together to share God’s grace.
Second, we can be thankful that God is still working. Paul says in verse 6, “I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.” God is still working on us. That’s good news, and that’s one reason I’m Wesleyan. John Wesley taught about sanctification, which is just a big, fancy word meaning God is still working on us. Through the Holy Spirit, God convicts us and corrects us to make us more like himself. Honestly, there are a few times in the past I needed the Holy Spirit to work on me, especially when I was in a busy store trying to buy Christmas gifts. It’s then I’ve needed patience. I hate waiting in line when it’s not the holidays. It’s in those times that I’m grateful that He’s not done with me yet. It’s in times like those that I’m reminded how much work He still has to do.
I also need to be reminded that if God’s not done with me yet, there’s a better than fair chance that He’s not done with that person working on the other side of the cash register? We need to cut others some slack during the holiday season. I mean, seriously, how great can it be standing on your feet 8 hours a day listening to blip, blip, blip, putting up with harried and impatient people like me, and all for the princely sum of $ 8 an hour? Instead of showing my impatience, I need to express my appreciation for the job they are doing. It’s amazing how a change of attitude can change the environment around us. We need to “think to thank” as we go through the holiday season. Start the season with gratitude. That only makes sense.
A second piece of advice we can glean from Paul’s letter is this season (and every season) we should “live to love.” Paul says in verse 8, “God knows how much I love you,” and in verse 9, “I pray that your love for each other will overflow.” Love is the essence of the heart of a disciple. Isn’t that what Jesus said? Mark’s Gospel, chapter 12, remember the encounter Jesus had with a scribe who asked him the greatest commandment? His answer was “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”