12/20 UPDATE: Roland Martin from CNN agrees. Check it out.

Only one week until December 25.

Since it’s on the same day each year, you’d think we’d be prepared in advance in order to avoid any unnecessary stress. But we are a nation of procrastination, and I’m one of the guilty in the crowd. I am still struggling to break free from my college and grad-school mentality that I can only finish large tasks and accomplish great things when I’m under the pressure of an impending deadline. Can you relate?

For example, I set deadlines for when each chapter of my thesis had to be completed and turned into my graduate committee for review. Without fail, I would tinker around a particular chapter for a week or so, but then when the deadline was glaring in my face (Oh! Only 12 hours until it’s due!), I’d hammer out 15+ pages. When I tried to write over the course of a week and over multiple sittings, I found that my thoughts weren’t nearly as coherent as when I did it all at once with pressure bearing down.

Plus, when the deadline is nowhere near, there are plenty of other things that can fill the time, right? “Oh, I need to vacuum,” or “I’ve been needing to wash my car,” “Wow! There’s a sea lion documentary on Animal Planet!” You get the point.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve had a Christmas To-Dos list hanging under my calendar, glaring at me from my computer’s desktop and pleading to be looked at from the inside cover of my planner. Despite my strategic placement of these lists, quite a few of the items have yet to be marked off. They will before the deadline, though, of course.

In the midst of the shopping, decorating and baking frenzy that has already settled down upon Pittsburgh (and I’m sure the rest of the nation), it’s tough to focus on the actual meaning of CHRISTmas. It’s as if everything around us fights to blur our focus. When you really take the time to think about it, the holiday is centered around the birth of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Santa wasn’t a part of the manger scene. There may have been a few reindeer (who knows?), but no Rudolph and no sleigh. There weren’t one-day sales, Hershey’s kisses or stockings.

How has Christmas become so commercialized?

Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends–a time to reflect on the impact of the birth of a little boy over 2,000 years ago. It’s the most monumental birthday of all time. It’s so easy to get swept up in all of the decorations, parties, advertising pressures, familial expectations and other obligations that we fail to spend any time truly thanking God for sending his son to save us from all of the sin in our lives. How can something so monumental as the birthday of God’s son on Earth be swept under the rug so easily? I don’t know, but I’m working to keep the true meaning out in the open at least for David and me.

We opted not to get presents for each other for Christmas. Sure there are things that we want and perhaps even need, but we’re trying to set a precedent this year that will follow us through children and beyond. For each other, we bought little boxes that we’re calling “I love…” boxes. Each day (starting December 1) we write down on a little slip of paper something that we love about each other or something that we’re thankful for/proud of in the other person. On Christmas morning, we’ll open those boxes up. Also, we decided to do $10 stockings just to see how creative we can get on a budget. For our third gift to each other, we’ll each be doing an act of service (to be decided).

We plan to follow my parents’ example once we do have kids; each year, we had a birthday cake for Jesus, read the Christmas story from Luke and sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. My brother and I each received three gifts–just like Jesus.

I hope that you’re able to find a way to keep CHRIST in Christmas this holiday season. It’s ok if the “to-do” list doesn’t get finished. The really important thing is that you take time to let the gravity of the first Christmas sink in and thank God for it. Merry Christmas to you all!

In closing, the fitting lyrics of my favorite Christmas song:

Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angels’ voices!
Oh night divine…oh night when Christ was born;
Oh night divine. Oh night…oh night divine!

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,

Here come the wise men from Orient land.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

Behold your King, Behold your King.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim!

His power and glory evermore proclaim!