Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Unexpected Christmas Visitor

by Susanne Dietze

Sugar Cookie Snowflakes 2Image by snarkygurl via Flickr I love Christmas-week guests. I love hearing the doorbell ring and hugging winter-chilled guests. I love the noshes we snack on as we chit-chat, while the kids, crazed by the prospect of presents, run around the house. This sense of festivity and togetherness is – according to several Christmas cards I’ve received in the past – what Christmas is all about.

Of course, as Christians, we know that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” that Christmas ultimately isn’t about family and friends any more than it’s about presents and mistletoe, but a dozen years ago I was determined to steep myself in fellowship anyway. Because that year, our first with a new baby, none of our family were coming to see us.

And I completely understood why. My elderly grandfather was not up to traveling, and my parents wanted – needed – to spend time with him. We couldn’t go to them, either. For my pastor husband, Christmas Eve was (and is) a busy day of work – plus two evening services. It’s part of the job, so if any family member wants to see us for Christmas, they have to come to us.

I’d heard about my dad’s lonesome Christmases when he was in the military, and I knew of too many folks who were widowed or working or divorced and spent December 25th in solitude. Christmas alone, I decided, stinks, so I determined to spend the holiday with those who might otherwise be by themselves. I’d invite others for appetizers and cider, and later, I’d snuggle into the crowded pews alongside members of my new parish family Christmas Eve. I’d have plenty of companionship for my Christmas.

But the baby – or rather, her immune system – had other plans, in the form of a Christmas Eve fever. She wasn’t too poor off, but I didn’t dare take her out or expose others. There would be no visitors to our house, no worship services. I felt rotten for my poor sick baby. But I felt even more rotten for myself. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the prospect of spending Christmas without fellowship left me disappointed and lonely.

After my husband left for services and I put the baby to bed, my parents called and passed the phone around to my relatives, which made me feel both better and worse. Then Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” came on the radio. Singing along, I succumbed to the stupidest bout of self-pity known to mankind.

Oh God, I cried out in my spirit, this isn’t how I wanted to feel on Christmas!

In an instant, shame flooded me. Then how do you want to feel? A quiet voice spoke to my spirit. What is Christmas about to you?

It was one of those moments in my faith journey that I’ll never forget. I had been given grand, lavish blessings – a loving husband, a home, and a gorgeous baby who had a cold and not some horrible disease – but I lamented all I lacked. Of course, we’re made for fellowship and my desire to have company wasn’t wrong. But wallowing in self-pity and ignoring what God had given to me certainly wasn’t right.

Krippe2Image via WikipediaI’d hoped and planned for visitors, but Someone had been knocking on the door to my heart all day and I’d left Him out in the cold.

In the soft light of the Christmas tree, I opened my Bible to the familiar passages in Matthew and Luke. I read about the journey Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem, where she gave birth to God Incarnate and laid him in a manger.

And I prayed, realizing that the absence of visitors allowed me to sit down and focus long enough to receive the best Christmas visitor: Jesus, the One I hadn’t planned for despite Him being the center of everything in the first place. He met me where I was and reminded me of one of the reasons He came in the first place: to save sinners. To love the world. Even me.

Since that evening, I’ve had several lonely nights. But Christmas Eve isn’t one of them. It’s my tradition before I go to bed to spend time with my Lord, my Special Guest. This annual devotional is a sacred time for me, and I praise Him for blessing me with the gift of Himself each Christmas.

Do you set apart special time to be alone with God at Christmas? And on a silly, noshing-note, what are your favorite type of Christmas cookies? I love the look of the iced ones in the picture, but I couldn't make anything look like that if my life depended on it...

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  1. That was really nice, Susie and kind of ties in with Anita's fiction yesterday. I really want to take some time this week and next for some intensive alone time with the Lord.

    I must say those cookies are beautiful but I might do that kind of decorating ONCE.

    Have a wonderful week!

  2. We like to have a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas.

    My first Christmas I was going to be without family was when my first child was due. I couldn't travel, and my parents planned to visit us in early January when she was born. When I saw a new baby at church on December 18th, I said, "I want my baby in time for Christmas." That night I went into labor and had Christi three weeks early. We had soooo much fun with our new Christmas toy that year. I even have pictures of her in my stocking. My parents and sister actually made it on the 26th.

  3. Good morning! I baked cranberry bread yesterday (for real!), so have a virtual slice and a mug of steaming hot cider!

    Deb, you and me both on those cookies. I'd make them once but there's no way they'd look like that. I am not skilled with frosting!

    I was struck by Anita's lovely post yesterday, too. I'd already written this one when I read her story yesterday, and I had the thought that God might be asking me to be on the lookout for someone who will be alone or grieving this year. So I'm on the prowl...

    I really hope you enjoy some intense, beautiful time with Jesus this week.

  4. Dina, I imagine those photos of Christi in a stocking are just adorable. What a fabulous Christmas present!

    I know a few other people who make a birthday cake for Jesus, but I've never done it. The reason is that I've never made an actual dessert for Christmas. Never. We just graze on the piles of cookies and fudge and all that stuff on the counter. But I think I'll make a cake this year. I haven't had the chance to do much baking at all yet, and I found a recipe for a candy cane cake, so...who knows? This might be a new tradition.

  5. Thank you for this, Susie! I've had an open invitation to a pity party staring me in the face all week. My boys are fighting the flu, my flesh dislikes my "freegan" Christmas, the furnace is acting up... blah, blah, blah. Thank you, dear Inky sis, for this sweet rebuke! I needed it.

  6. Aw, Niki, I am so sorry about everything going on at your house. A furnace is pretty important (!) and this is a rough week to have it act up on you. And your poor sick boys!

    When you add in Christmas-week "stuff" and responsibilities (and you're a pastor's wife, too), sprinkled with planning for something new to your celebration, you've got a recipe for some serious fatigue and frustration. I will pray for you, sister! I hope that this Christmas, you will experience God Incarnate, Man Divine in a new, tangible, and powerful way, and that you'll be refreshed and renewed. Hugs, and prayers too for healing for the boys and protection for all of you from the flu bug!

  7. As a member of the CAF working in a 24/7 base communications centre (commcen), I've worked many Christmas Eves and Days. The holidays were divided into 2 groups - Christmas and New Year's. Instead of an 8 hr shift, it was lengthened to 12 hrs to ensure we had enough personnel to cover the shifts. For security reasons we weren't allowed a TV in the commcen in case someone could infiltrate our signals. I worked several Christmases with only the hum of the equipment for company for 12 long hours. After I'd been in the service about 14 yrs technology changed and they put a TV in the commcen coffee room - for night and holiday shifts only. Time passed a lot faster after that. :)

    So yes, I've been through my own pity holiday parties. Yet like everything else, I knew it was a matter of waiting it out. I also knew if I wasn't the one working it would be someone else. And no matter what stage of my life, there was always someone worse off than me.

    Now, about those cookies... yes, I can do that. Not quite as elaborate, but I took a cake decorating class waaaaay back and still use the decorator icing recipe. The secret is to let the first coat of icing harden completely before adding the second layer. Another secret is using a decorator icing bag to pipe the design onto the cookie.

    Another option is to ice the cookie using white icing and then draw the design on using the Wilton decorator pens. This way is faster than piping the 2nd layer of icing and looks nice too - as long as your hand is steady. :)

    I'm praying for you all and your families, for peace, health and rest.

  8. What a wonderful reminder for us all, and what a wonderful gift that quiet is - to just spend some time adoring our Savior.

  9. My Christmases are usually noisy and boisterous and though we've had family devotion time, and read the Christmas story, I can't say that I've ever really taken the time to get away and get alone with Jesus.

    I need to do that. Maybe this year more than ever before.

  10. Hey, I just got back from seeing "Tangled" with my kids -- what an adorable movie. I loved it!

    Anita Mae, I am envious of your awesome cookie decorating skills. Maybe one of these days I should take a class. I made a castle cake for my daughter once and other moms at the party were actually laughing at my efforts. Yep, I'm not a natural dessert decorator.

    Thanks for the reminder that folks in the military are working for us 24/7. While we're celebrating holidays with our families, they're doing their part to serve and protect. Yet it must be lonely to work through Christmas. I'm praying for my godson and all of the men and women who serve in the military.

  11. Hi Karl! Thanks for stopping by on a busy day. I hope that you are refreshed and renewed in body, mind and spirit this Christmas.

  12. Lisa, I love boisterous Christmases! That's probably why I had such a pity party at the prospect of being alone. But God needed to get my attention. Have a wonderful family celebration!

  13. Thank you for this post Suzanne! I need to get grounded or the season really wipes me out!

    Love sugar cookies! Mine look a lot more rustic than the beautiful ones in the picture!

  14. Candy cane cake is delicious. My mom made it several times.

  15. Lisa, there's this scene in Tangled with paper lanterns and oh, let's just say I loved it and wished I could've written it. Enjoy the movie!

  16. Cheryl, I'm totally wiped out, too! I know what's coming every year, yet things still take me by surprise. I've been up to my elbows in goodies in the kitchen, and there's still gingerbread houses to decorate and a few presents to wrap and...But I can't forget my special "date" with my Lord today.

    Blessed Christmas to you!

  17. Ooh, Dina, glad to know candy cane cake is good. It looks cute, and not too hard to make, so I'm hoping for the best!

    Have you baked your cake yet?


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