Make the Desert Bloom

Isaiah 35

Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35

Newsweek reported, “What causes more holiday headaches: a houseful of relatives or the words ‘some assembly required’? The Excedrin Headache Resource Center took a poll to find out:

1. Fighting crowds and traffic

2. Not getting enough sleep and changing sleep patterns

3. Not having enough time to get everything done

4. Spending too much money

5. Eating or drinking too much

6. Skipping meals because of a busy schedule

7. Getting together with friends and family

8. Cooking and cleaning

9. Long plane/train/car trips

10. Being apart from friends and family during the holidays.”

This list has the potential to take the joy right out of our holiday. What we really want is the sentiment found in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas…Can’t you hear Bing Crosby’s voice singing it: I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten,

and children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.

With every Christmas card I write,

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white.

That is the Christmas we all strive for. One that is dreamy and white, just like the ones we used to know. Yet these memories have the potential to take us to a place that is not so merry. As Elvis used to sing,

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you; I’ll be so blue just thinking about you.

Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree

Won’t mean a thing dear if you’re not here with me.

When those blue snowflakes start falling that’s when those blue memories start calling.

You’ll be doing all right with your Christmas of white.

But I’ll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas.

How do we keep our white Christmas from turning blue? If we examine our expectations, obligations, and celebrations, we can secure ourselves this holiday season. If we find ourselves in the desert of commercialism this season, we can make the desert bloom with peace.

First let us look at our expectations. We need to ask ourselves if we are setting ourselves up for a let down. What are we looking for? What are we hoping to do during the season? Is there someone that we need to see? Is there something that we need to do to make our holiday experience feel complete? There may be a memory of our childhood or from recent years, a memory that may be in the back of our mind. That memory sets the bar pretty high, whether it is an emotion or an experience, there is something we seek just out of our reach. It may seem right within our grasp because the setting is so similar- the music, the decorations, the festivities can elicit strong memories, but we may not be able to replicate what we need.

Without even knowing it, we could be looking for one thing to make us feel complete. Before we start this race of pursuit of a holiday moment from our past, we need to name what it is we are pursuing. It could be that you grew up eating a certain dish on Christmas morning and that dish really makes the holiday come alive. Or it could be that being with a special loved one is the only thing that makes it feel right. Maybe eating a special meal, seeing a certain movie, or attending a candlelit worship service is our expectation. Once we do some serious introspection and determine what our expectations really are, and then determine whether or not we are able to have that experience. We may discover that we are pursuing something that is unrealistic. For instance, we may not have had time to grieve the death of a loved one, or been ready to grieve. If we suddenly realize that our Christmas expectations include one who has passed, we are setting ourselves up for a tough time. Being realistic about what can and cannot happen is a first step toward better holiday stability.

Sandra Stolz wrote “Be Your Own Santa Claus” in 1978. After her years as a counselor she decided to write about the grief and expectation in the holiday season. Grief needs to be embraced fully and recognized, not put away, hidden, or repressed. Then, according to Stolz, the grief can be dealt with later with less impact and eventually the focus will shift from depression to thanksgiving for good memories. It is all right to experience grief and acknowledge it as a part of who we are so that it does not own us or define who we are. Stolz also writes of a tendency for us to judge how others respond to the Christmas season, and that puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved. We are cautioned not to label someone a grinch or a grouch if they do not share our approach or timing to Christmas. If we have unfair expectations of others, we can experience a disappointment that overtakes us. Often we tend to do that with family. We may expect a member of the family to participate in a tradition of Christmas, such as baking, sledding, playing a game, but that person is not in the mood for their own reasons. We need to guard against those expectations and learn not to say, “What will Christmas be like for me?” Rather, we need to say, “What will I be like for Christmas?” Maybe we can learn something from the Christmas story. Joseph brought Mary to his hometown expecting some kind of welcome, but the holy family ended up in a stable- a first example of failed expectations for extended family.

Once we review and renew our expectations, we need to look at our obligations. What are we doing this season, and why? What are the things that we need to do? Where are the places that we need to go? Most likely we answer this question by looking at our calendar and seeing holiday parties, gatherings, church events, even shopping and decorating may be scheduled. Those times are necessary and a part of what makes Christmas bright. However, sometimes we overstuff our schedules without realizing it until later. Let us take some pressure off of ourselves. We do not have to do everything and be everywhere. Let us find a way to keep a pace at Christmas that will keep our heads above water. The right pace is very important. Slow down. Slow down walking from the car to the store across the ice. Slow down decorating- less will break. Slow down and do not be in such a hurry. Our obligations can put a pressure upon us that is so heavy that we may not be able to fully enjoy the moment because we know another commitment is right around the corner. The present becomes so elusive because we have one foot already in the future. Then suddenly the season is over and we have finished the race but we are worn out and exhausted. It is all right to slow down and enjoy the time.

This may seem counter productive, but in your busy schedule, there may be some obligations that you need to add such as service to others. There needs to be time set aside for helping those in need. Yes, it is important to join in the festivities and have the fullness of the season, but we must look outside ourselves toward those who feel as if there is nothing to celebrate and do something for them. In the busy-ness of so much that you must do, set aside time to help someone else. Helping others lifts your spirit as well. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 11:25, “The generous will prosper and thrive, for refreshing others refreshes the self.”

Once we have refreshed ourselves by examining our expectations and our obligations, we are more prepared to truly celebrate the Christmas season as it should be celebrated without feeling blue. In our Scripture today the prophet Isaiah wrote about the desert blooming. Have you ever seen one of those time lapse movies of a desert receiving rain and green blooming? It is beautiful to see a large, dry area that appears to be completely dead spring to life.

When we grasp the true meaning of Christmas, the coming of the Christ child, whatever desert we are in can become renewed and blossom. Does the Christmas season put us right in the middle of the desert of memories gone by? Isaiah wrote that God’s people had a way in the desert. He wrote to the people of Israel, conquered by the armies of Babylon, who had experienced exile away from Israel. They had marched away from their home across a literal desert. They landed in a figurative desert that seemed to have no hope of exit or God’s blessing. They were lost without a home. Yet Isaiah wrote that a way would be made in the desert, a holy way for God’s people, that led to hope. Isaiah sends us this message today. When we feel lost in the desert- maybe we have overburdened ourselves by expectations and obligations that are out of control- we may feel unable to celebrate Christmas and personally apply its message of hope. Let us put those expectations and obligations in check so we may experience the proper celebration of Christmas- the Christ child born in a manger. God makes the desert bloom and can restore within us new hope and new life. God brings the Christmas season into focus again so the dryness of life will bloom with new growth. May your blue Christmas be white. Amen.