I was listening as my friends were talking about Christmas. “Have you been able to slow down and enjoy the season?” was the question. Amid various reasons why it had not been possible or only momentarily possible I detected this mixture of wanting to slow down and yet not. I mean isn’t Christmas always like this – too many things we love to do and we must race to get it all done? I was almost afraid they would ask me if I was ready, and they did. I would have been content to listen, but they asked.
“I haven’t done any shopping for gifts. I’m allergic to stores during this season.” I then went on to explain that I have had some traditional Christmases but I’ve also not “kept” Christmas for many years. It can be done, even if you’re a Christian. If I really want to slow down, I know how to do it. Unfortunately, I felt like I’d thrown a wet blanket on a lovely fire and the conversation ended feeling uncomfortable (hello Scrooge). I think I can understand that people don’t really want to hear that the season is not about all that busy-ness that they claim to struggle with.
You know how ideas, culture, custom can kind of take on a life of their own? The idea of what Christmas is begins to be pushed on us in October actually. It’s purely a marketing ploy brought on by the custom of gift giving. People like to get gifts and give them as well (but especially the getting). By November everyone is talking about programs, their holiday schedules, their travel plans. By December it’s all in full swing, and the non-stop Christmas music starts, the decorations, the baking, the parties. If you have been raised in this culture, not doing all these things leaves a very obvious, gaping hole in your December experience. You have built a large backlog of Christmas memories and a hefty expectation of what future Christmases should be.
And you are ripe for disappointment.
Expectations can be hard to fulfill. When the finances aren’t adequate, when illness or death interferes, when family can’t or doesn’t want to show up, when everything doesn’t turn out picture perfect, when the stress of it all makes you start to wonder “why do I do this?”…
Back to the conversation with my friends – I did not mean to introduce a spirit of judgment on them for celebrating and I hope that is not what they were feeling. I see where they are coming from and I have heard them speak their heart. They know what Christmas is really about.
I won’t accept a spirit of judgment for myself either. It is fairly common knowledge among Christians that December probably wasn’t when the birth of Christ took place and that most of the customs of modern Christmas have been added for various reasons, not all of them holy. And I can take comfort in knowing that I am doing everything Christ asked to be done for his birthday.
I am being thankful for it.
If it’s really about Christ and what his coming means for me, I don’t have to worry about Christmas being disappointing. If it’s really about his plan to make a way for me to have a relationship with God then I don’t have to worry about being lonely during the holiday. If I know he’s provided a way to make things new for me, I don’t have to worry about things being perfect now. If I know he loves me, I don’t have to experience the hollowness or the ache of unmet expectations.
The story of Jesus’s birth is beautiful, amazing, mysterious, something only God would do, and I love it. I sing the songs about Bethlehem and the angels and Mary and Joseph and Jesus. I feel loved and I feel loving. I’m just saying that it can be about Jesus, not just on December 25th but every day, and I (or you) can slow down and enjoy that fact – if I really want to.