Christmas. It's the only time I can think of when people are encouraged to don the ugliest attire in their closets in a festive celebration of what not to wear. The more grinning gingerbread men and candy canes, the better. Add shiny garland and blinking lights for extra flare. One used to be forced to comb Goodwill racks for the best yuletide castoffs. Now, retailers rake in the cash creating their own modern versions of the vintage ugly sweater. The bottom line on this annual ritual? The uglier the better.
Unfortunately, I can relate...and, not just at Christmastime.
Wayland Union High School Staff Ugly Sweater Day
Despite my attempts to control or hide it, my inner ugly often spews out onto friends, family, and even the Walmart clerk, much like Scrooge's "Bah, humbug!" Let's just call it what it is, shall we? Sin. Missing the mark. Taking matters into our own hands when people don't follow our inner script. Do any of these sound familiar?
Who does she think she is?
I'm going to give him a piece of my mind!
Get out of the way!
The gas pedal's the one on the right!
If she would just...
What's your problem!?
He needs to...
If she does that again, I'm going to...
Did you hear about (insert rumor)?
Get a clue!
Elephant-like stomping through house
He'll never learn.
You always (or never)...
You can't fix stupid!
We use these tactics with such frequency, it's like wearing an ugly sweater year round. And let's face it, we're pretty inept at tackling the underlying problem.
Paul spoke of his exasperation with his own sin problem in Romans 7: 15-20 (The Message), saying:
14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
This is the Apostle Paul, folks. He had a personal encounter with Jesus that transformed him from Christian bully to Christian crusader. If Paul didn't have the muscle to strong arm the sin problem, how can we? Spoiler alert: We can't.
Thankfully, unlike awkward family Christmas parties and interminable lines at the Kohl's checkout, we don't have to power through our inner mess thanks to two simple yet profound truths.
Truth #1 - God doesn't condemn us
Our ugly is removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). As far as New York is from Australia. Through Christ's death, we are covered in God's own benevolent forgetfulness.
Truth #2 - Christ inside us changes us
Romans 8:37 reminds us that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Not on our own. Not by trying harder or following the latest spiritual plan, but by relying on Christ's holy horsepower within us.
Applying these truths
1. If you are beating yourself up, stop.
God is not looking down his nose at you with condemnation. Instead, he views you through eyes of grace. You know that outfit in your closet you save for special occasions? The one that flatters every curve and causes you to pause for another glance in the mirror? That's how God sees you.
2. If you are trying to change yourself, don't.
Doing so is like attempting an extreme makeover with a closet full of 90's grunge-wear. You need to rely on God's power in every moment through talking to him and being specific in your requests. For example, please help me to see this cashier through eyes of grace like you do. Give me a kind word to speak. What can I do to encourage her in this moment?
Ugly sweaters may be all the rage at Christmastime, but ugly attitudes are only hip in Dickens novels. Rely on Christ, not yourself, to pull off an attitude transplant that will clash with this season's ugly sweater trend. And you may find yourself in line with Scrooge's transformation in the last paragraphs of A Christmas Carol.
"Scrooge became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. He knew how to keep Christmas all year."
Ahh...this happy ending makes me want to shed my ugly sweater for a top hat and festive red scarf. How about you?