Last year, I wrote a little Christmas guest blog for We’re Sorry. A year later, it still applies, so I thought I’d repost it here. Every year, I feel more amazed at how much faster time seems to go, how one minute you’re cleaning up the Thanksgiving dinner, and the next you’re taking down the tree. I hope as the month comes to a close we don’t forget what really matters.
“Love came down at Christmas / Love all lovely, love divine…” – Christina Rossetti
It was the last weekend before Christmas, and the shopping idea was not going so well. After the kind of day where success is defined as navigating your way back to the car without getting killed (verbal hits and impolite hand gestures notwithstanding), I came to a somewhat cynical conclusion:
I have no doubt that love came down at some point. I’m not so sure it was Christmas though.
Don’t get me wrong… I love Christmas. I love the music, I love sending cards, I love everything it is supposed to represent. (I don’t love the frenzied shopping part, or the people who failed to get the “Peace on Earth/Goodwill to All” memo.) But something along the way has gone very, very wrong.
It’s like our well-meaning ancestors said, “Hey! Let’s celebrate this pagan festival, only we’ll say it’s about the birth of Jesus instead! Sweet!” And then somewhere along the way, more well-meaning ancestors thought giving gifts like the Magi would be a nice touch, and maybe some decorations would pretty things up, and dude, that St. Nicholas guy was pretty cool, so maybe we should figure out a way to let jolly ol’ Nick in on the party.
And what are we left with now? Giving gifts becomes cold, obligatory ritual that we put off and go into grumbling all the way. Debt escalates, because we really do need to get something for Aunt So-and-So and a million other people on the proverbial list, and empty materialism and financial worries steal the thrill out of the giving and sharing. And so January rolls around with a mountain of debt in its wake, and many of us, like a frustrated Charlie Brown demanding someone tell him what Christmas is all about, realize something was lost in the whirlwind… something that was meant to define the season.
Joy. Good tidings of great, inexpressible, exceeding joy.
“The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.’… As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing.” (Luke 2:10-12, 15-16 The Message )
I always found it strange that our well-meaning Christian family can get so angry over what a chain store chooses as its greeting of choice, yet not rise up in indignation that the very things this season was supposed to be about — love, joy, peace, redemption, sacrifice — are lost in the frenzy of shopping and spending and to-do lists. But God never gave up on a stubborn, screwed up world, so maybe even in this it’s not too late for change. I am grateful for movements like Advent Conspiracy that are challenging us to think about what this season would look like if we just attempted to live by that ideal.
And what if indeed?
What if each of us did our part to live joyfully, treat everyone we encounter with love and respect, and take the time to quietly experience the peace and the mystery of the Incarnation? What if we gave handmade gifts and service instead of that random sweater we picked up to check a name off the list? What if we celebrated and spent time together, instead of constantly running from errand to errand? What if we really meant it when we wished each other a “Merry Christmas” (or even “Happy Holidays”)? What if we focused on spending less, but giving more, finding creative ways to love each other and make the season a little brighter for friend, family, and stranger alike?
Maybe it would take us one step closer to reclaiming the beauty of Christmas, seeing it for what it is: the celebration of a birth, life, death, and (ultimately) resurrection that changed the world.
This year, with all eyes on an ailing economy, many here in America are talking about cutting back and spending less. I somehow think this could be a blessing in disguise, a chance for us to step back and re-evaluate what Christmas is all about. God has used stranger things to bring his people around… why not this too?
So, Merry Christmas. Whether you have lights on the house and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas blasting in your CD player before the post-Thanksgiving turkey coma has completely worn off, or spend the month of December muttering “Bah, humbug” at the chaos around you, I offer you a challenge: Take the time to slow down and reflect on just how profound the reason we celebrate is — God as a child, sent to redeem a lost humanity and a broken, chaotic world. Then love and live and give deeply and fully, in any and every way you can, because you believe in it. It just might change the world.
Oh yeah. And do your sanity a favor… stay home and bake cookies on the last weekend before Christmas. That’s where I’ll be.