Don't let Christmas hustle block view of heaven

Now that the holiday season is upon us, there is no escaping busy schedules and relentless merchandising. The rush is on to snag whatever business can be had in these crazy times, and to make sure joy and cheer are celebrated when possible. 

It's Christmas, after all!  The most wonderful time of the year!

So why does it seem more people are consumed with themselves, emotionally drained and downtrodden? Certainly the rough economy is taking its toll, and non-stop negative news wears on the soul. But aren't we also creating new diversions and distractions that steal our focus, leading to a lack of Christmastime joy?

Every season brings the timeless challenge of getting gift lists filled and schedules met, followed by promises of "I'm going to enjoy the season more…next year." No matter how hard we try, the goal seems increasingly hard to reach. Besides, there's just so much to do!

I'm reminded of a classic Norman Rockwell illustration featuring passers-by in front of the entrance to a gray cathedral. Crowds of people shuffle by, heads down, studying their shoes and the pavement.

While Rockwell painted the image decades ago and it has a distinct 1940s look to it, the message is clearer than ever: In all of our overloaded days, it's time to "look up."

At the top of the famous image, white "doves" are taking flight. Sure, it may be that this is a picture of St. Patrick's in New York City, so the birds are likely everyday pigeons, but the artist shows the winged creatures at their best, all in formation. The birds reflect freedom and spirit, unnoticed by the folks trudging by below. If you study them closely, you get a sense of "what do they know... and why are the birds so happy?"

They are rising above the ratrace.

The heart of the Rockwellian portrait is a man on a stepladder, working on inserting old-fashioned letters on a sign announcing the coming sermon.  To the lower right of him, there is a minister, monitoring the activity to make sure his message is spelled out correctly.

And there it is, in bold, capital letters: LIFT UP THINE EYES.

The expression on the worker's face suggests he's asking the clergyman, "Does that look OK?" Or possibly, "Think anyone will notice?"


Too stressed to see
Directly above the sign, in sculpted stone, is a figure of Christ.

It conveys the thought that while those in ministry "get it," the masses don't bother to look.

As you think about the people in the illustration who are clearly stressed under the weights of that day, you may start seeing people around you a little differently. 

A good way to be a bit more sensitive to others is to avoid a snap judgment ala "Wow, isn't he cranky" or "She seems so distant." I've been trying to offer a short prayer to God such as "There must be something difficult going on there… Lord help that person." Sometimes just a pleasant greeting can cause a little extra ministry to break out, and encouragement to enter an otherwise awful day.

Still the gaggle of humans drags along in Rockwell's painting, oblivious to the message of hope, right above their heads.


Fancy distractions
If the artist was alive today he might update the image with citizens holding cell phones and iPods, wearing headphones so they can be shut out from the world around them.

Satan must love our daily distractions, especially this time of the year.  He figures it's better to be bombarded with ubiquitous "holiday" commercials and generic seasonal music, devoid of "religious references."  And why not keep hyping the newest gadgets to absorb even more time each day, keeping us away from connections to God?  

I love the latest technology, and Christmas is sure the time for the latest and greatest items to be offered. But if we're not careful, it can simply keep us from raising our heads, looking up and getting some heavenly perspective. And sometimes God's love and miracles can be right under our noses.


Earthly success
Steve Jobs was certainly successful in cranking out lots of wonderful products that helped the information age explode and communications to expand around the world. Still with all his technological genius, what might he have been missing?

In Walter Isaacson's fascinating best-selling biography about Jobs, he details a time when young Steve's parents took him to church.

Because the pastor failed to (in Jobs' view) adequately explain why God allows suffering in the world, the computer whiz apparently gave up on Christianity, later turning to other forms of "spirituality."

I will not presume to say whether Steve Jobs made peace with God through Christ. I pray that was the case. The Lord sure gave him a ton of talent. But I can't help but wonder how much some of the day-to-day challenges and burdens may have simply kept him from "looking up" one more time.

Let's find new and fresh ways to lift up our eyes this Christmas… and help others to find the greatest gift of all.


Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 6 to 9 a.m., and on KPRZ 1210AM from 2 to 4 p.m. E-mail: mark@marklarson.com.



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Published, December 2011