I love clever and memorable ways of expressing deep truths succinctly. One of our EHMC preschool teachers shared such a saying with me: “Christmas is not about the presents, but about His presence.” True enough and most of us would benefit from improving our skill in detecting God’s presence for, as Dallas Willard has observed, “God does not ordinarily compete for our attention.”
Dreams of Christmases past, while perhaps enjoyable or comforting, can blind us to the action of God in Christmas present. Making lists and checking them twice is great for Santa Claus and for accomplishing holiday tasks but similarly does little to reveal the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives and the lives of others. Jesus was well aware of the spiritual dangers of excessive “future-tripping” – of being so focused on planning for what lies ahead that one neglects to engage the present. (See Matthew 6:33-34) If we would perceive God’s presence, we must engage the “now” with our undivided attention. It can be a challenge in the best of times but is an even more arduous endeavor during this busy, emotionally fraught season when so many forces compete for our attention and energy. Perceiving God’s presence requires dedication, patience, and purposefulness.
Early Christians continued and expanded upon the ancient Jewish practice of praying at dawn, midday, and dusk. This routine directed worshippers’ attention to God throughout the day and helped them comply with the Apostle Paul’s direction to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17.) Over time, this devotional practice developed into the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office which consisted of seven set times at which Christians were to “sanctify the day with prayer.” We don’t have to be monks or nuns to benefit from intentionally turning our thoughts to God throughout the day.
If we determine to fully engage the present, we can sense God’s presence. Such an epiphany is the best Christmas gift of all. I wish you a Merry, Mindful Christmas and a Holy New Year.