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I was quietly enjoying a breakfast burrito at McDonald’s and catching up on twitter on my phone this morning when all of a sudden I heard a woman’s angry voice shouting, “This is the worst service EVER!!  You suck!!”  Then someone else shouted “Merry Christmas!”  I didn’t see it happen but I’m assuming she stormed out after hurling that piece of her mind at the surprised workers behind the counter.  It’s true they were a little slow today and it was very busy there, but I’m not sure their less-than-speedy service warranted that attack.  My first thought was how mean and unfair it was for her to do that and that if I was that worker I would probably be fighting back tears.  I hate to get yelled at.  Now that I think about it, does anyone like getting yelled at?   My next thought was that she must be stressed-out or already worked up about something else to react so strongly.  And down deep, she must be hurting.  Hurt usually leads to anger.

The first few weeks of December when we had no money to buy presents and were anticipating a very simple Christmas, God gave me a little (emphasis on little) perspective of what it’s like for so many people every year.  There are lots of families who struggle to make ends meet and aren’t able to do much, if anything, in the gift buying and giving department.  You know, there is a lot of pressure from people’s expectations and TV commercials about buying stuff, buying stuff, and buying more stuff.  I hadn’t realized it as much until this year.  Often the first question in passing conversation is “Have you gotten your shopping done?”  Well, what if I’m not going to do any shopping?  I usually just smiled and asked them something else.  There are also lots of unwritten expectations out there about having a beautifully decorated home and lavish buffets or parties with all kinds of delectables, enjoyed amid scented candlelight with some liquor thrown in to make it fun.  Martha Stewartish ideals are all over the place.

Many are hurting at Christmas, not even looking forward to their family coming over.  We watched Jimmy Fallon last night and heard him tell how a song he co-wrote about being drunk on Christmas in order to deal with unwanted family that was going to be there is climbing the iTunes charts.  Many dread this time of year because they’re alone – family is far away or they have none.   Many are having trouble feeling jolly because someone they love is dealing with a terminal illness or has died.  The expectations from ourselves, our culture and others lay a heavy weight on us and if those aren’t met we are left disappointed, disillusioned, or depressed.   If we set ourselves up for Hallmark moments and end up with “Wal-mart disasters” we feel we let everyone down.

God surprised us with some gifts from generous friends, most of them anonymous, and we were able to send gifts to family after all and get some things for the girls.  It has been a lot of fun!  I don’t think I’ll ever forget, though, how I felt until that happened and how it actually helped me focus on Jesus more.  Jesus, God’s own son who took off his heavenly robe to take on a little baby’s body instead.  Jesus, who was born to die in our place, who was the most profound and tangible expression ever of God’s immense love.

We say we celebrate Christmas because of Him, we give gifts remembering the gift of His coming and as a way to show each other love.  We have parties to enjoy fellowship with other people and share love.   I love parties, presents, and celebrating.  I love Christmas songs and decorations, trees with sparkling lights, candles flickering, spiced cider steaming and filling the house with its yummy smell.  As I sit here and think about it all, however, I realize Jesus never asked us to do all of that in His honor.  He has never put those expectations upon us – we put them on ourselves.  I mean, He was born to poor people who had to spend the night in the barn.  If we were to ask Jesus what He’d like for us to do for Christmas, I’m sure he would love the idea of giving things to needy people, sharing love with others and more, but most of all I think He wants us to love Him.  God’s act of sacrifice was His arms reaching out, hoping for us to reach back and take hold.  He wanted to close the gap between us and Him.  He loves us!  And He wants to be loved.  The wonderful truth is that it doesn’t cost any money to love God.  It doesn’t take hours of preparation or designer style.  I feel Him tugging on my heart, even now, just to be with Him.  To quiet my heart and worship.  To just be still and love Him.

Someone needs to hug that poor angry lady that yelled at the McDonald’s staff this morning.  She needs someone to listen to why she’s angry or stressed or uptight and then encourage her.  She needs someone to tell her that she doesn’t have to live up to any of our culture’s expectations.  She needs love.

I pray you’ll feel God’s love today and tomorrow, for Christmas.  I pray you’ll let your heart be covered and saturated with peace knowing there are no expectations from Jesus.  He only wants you to love.