Paul and I lived in Japan for a number of years and went through the inevitable culture shock that expatriates experience there. Each year in December the shops were decorated with all the glitter of Christmas and I was very touched when I stumbled on a large nativity scene and heard some beautiful Christmas carols being played in a big department store. But this was misleading, because when December 25th came everyone just went to work as normal.
All the pretty Christmas trees vanished on December 26th and were replaced with an arrangement of bamboo and pine for the New Year festival.
One year I went to the American Club library and found Punch magazine with a cartoon in it. It showed a British woman, laden with parcels, who had been doing her Christmas shopping. She had found her way into a church and sat down in one of the pews. She was explaining to the vicar ‘I’m sorry vicar, but this is the only place I can get away from Christmas’.
I wonder what the time of preparation for Christmas with all the shopping is like for you? Is it exhausting and anxious? Do you long for the peace that passes understanding? The apostle Paul wrote of this in his letter to the Philippians when he said our hearts and minds would be guarded as we rejoice in the Lord Jesus, and present our petitions to the Him with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7). He then goes on to give the most wonderful piece of advice of how to keep this attitude of rejoicing within ourselves.
We are to deliberately focus our thoughts on things which are true and beautiful. ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’. The Philippians only had to cast their minds back to the things they had learnt from the apostle when he was with them. He had shown them what joyful Christian living was like and now they could imitate Paul’s life style. ‘What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you’. The joy that Paul calls for is not a happiness that depends on circumstances but a deep contentment that is based on trust in the Lord and is available always, even in difficult times.
Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, please help me to find the peace within my heart and mind that comes from our Lord Jesus, even when all around me is a frenzy of activity. May I focus my heart on the things that are valuable in your eyes and receive a refreshing within my spirit, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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