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Going Through the Motions

By JPC Allen

I am sure all of us have wondered, sometime in the middle of December, between shopping and baking and attending various social functions, if all this flurry of activity truly celebrates the coming of the Messiah. Do all these traditions and commitments mean anything to me? To anyone else? To God?

All these questions came to mind when I agreed to write a devotional for my church’s Advent book.  Since I kept forgetting to sign up, I got stuck with Luke 2:22-33, NIV.

“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Marry took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord … and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons.’

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was a righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

‘For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’

“The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.”

I knew so little about this passage that I researched it in The Layman’s Bible Commentary of Luke by Donald G. Miller. He writes that the temple Joseph and Marry brought Jesus to was magnificent, a show place constructed by Herod, who wanted to outdo Solomon. “It was the center of all the hopes of every Jew … It was filled with priests, busy with their official duties but dull to their spiritual function.”

That sounds like me at Christmas. I get so caught up in the “official duties” of the holiday – choosing gifts, buying gifts, giving gifts, attending parties and concerts, and decorating everything from the yard to cookies – that Christmas becomes just another to-do list.

I can feel that way with my writing, too. The pressure to meet deadlines makes it very easy to just crank out words. The meaning of those words doesn’t matter as long as I’m fulfilling my obligations, adding another plank to my author’s platform.

But with any activity that becomes meaningless, it gets harder and harder to do until I stop doing it completely. I need to be like Simeon, letting the Holy Spirit guide my actions, so that even the smallest tasks have deep significance, and my soul is in a position to spot Emmanuel, God in our midst. Going through the motions robs Christmas and our writing of the meaning they deserve.

This Christmas, JPC Allen will try to put meaning in her motions as she celebrates the holiday with her family in the Midwest. She is a 2016 Genesis semi-finalist in the YA category for her contemporary novel The Truth and Other Strangers. She offers writing tips and prompts to beginning writers at and

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