I’ve struggled to come up with a Christmas message this year. In fact, I’ve struggled quite a bit with Christmas in general this year. I have friends and co-workers who have told me they feel the same “funk” about this Christmas.
I’m blaming the news. We’ve had 18 months of relentlessly bad news, a particularly obnoxious election season, terrorist threats, and most recently, miserable weather basically around the globe. It’s getting harder and harder to feel warm and fuzzy and Christmas-y. Banks are going belly-up, homes are being repossessed, people can’t find jobs, gasoline is going through the roof….bah-humbug.
As a Christian, it shouldn’t be this difficult for me. After all, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, “Put Christ Back in Christmas” and all that. But frankly, knowing that and feeling that are two very different things. In fact, just the idea of putting Christ in Christmas has taken a bit of a militant edge this year, with people getting way overworked about the phrase “happy holidays” in stores. I’ve never taken offense to it, or considered it some kind of anti-Christian rhetoric. After all, “holiday” means “holy day”. But the talking heads took aim at it as if it were part of a vast left-wing conspiracy, and some folks are going a little nutty about it. A very rational co-worker proudly exclaimed that they “won’t buy anything from any store where employees say ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry Christmas’…” That’s their choice, I suppose.
But worse was the mall shopper who approached my friend while she was ringing bells for the Salvation Army donation kettle. The shopper looked at the big red kettle and all the signs and said “Does it say ‘Merry Christmas’ anywhere here?” Surprised, she responded that she didn’t think so, and the shopper turned away and said “Then you’re not getting my money!”
Seriously? Not giving to the Salvation Army, a religious charity, because the signage doesn’t say “Merry Christmas”? It doesn’t say “Happy Holidays”, either! It just says “Salvation Army”. How ridiculous can you get? Some Christian spirit there, huh?
Juggling holiday travel, family pressures, work pressures, money pressures, and the struggle to get the perfect gifts – it’s a lot to process. Why are we doing this? How did the celebration of the birth of the Christ-child evolve into this? Have we come full circle? Christians adopted and transformed pagan holidays through the centuries, and now our decidedly Christian holiday seems to be becoming more pagan in many ways. We are worshipping the same golden calf of materialism, pride and greed that Moses destroyed.
Time to step back. Time to remember that I believe in a tiny child born 2000 years ago, and in the love He brought to the world. And I do believe. I do choose to believe in the birth of Christ.
That belief is pretty out of character for me. I’m generally very skeptical and yes, cynical in many ways. If something sounds too good to be true, then I know it probably is. I’ve been betrayed by people I’ve trusted. I’ve seen people I’ve known for years end up inexplicably on the wrong side of the law. I’ve seen loved ones die far too young. As you work your way through decades of life on this earth, you learn to shield your heart and use your head. And yet…I believe that a child was born in a stable, laid in a manger, and was worshipped there by shepherds, angels and kings. I believe that He grew to become a teacher, to bring God to earth, to flesh, and to death. It’s the ultimate “too good to be true” situation, and yet, I believe without question.
Christmas is about belief in the incredible, the unbelievable. For children, it’s the wonder of flying reindeer and a jolly old elf dressed in red. For adults, it’s the miracle of God-on-earth in the form of a baby. Of course, it’s more than a baby. It’s what that baby represents – the rest of the story that transformed the world. We know the end of the story, we’ve read the final chapter, and yet we can’t wait to read it all over again every Christmas. We need to look at that pretty nativity on our mantle and remember that it’s not just a decoration – it’s the start of a wonderful story. It’s the birth of Love.
Because I believe in the story of Jesus, I am able to believe in the inherent goodness of human beings, despite evidence to the contrary. I may get discouraged, but I am not broken by the constant stream of negative news. I have faith in my fellow man. I have faith in this “grand experiment” that is the United States. I have faith in my husband and in his love for me. I have faith that the bad times will pass.
Because I am able to wonder and worship, I am able to feel awe at the tiny, perfect fingers of a newborn baby. At the incredible beauty of a 90 year old woman singing in church. At the musical laughter of children. At the power of tears, and the power of a touch.
Do I forget to believe and wonder? Sometimes. I sometimes have to force myself to sit still in silence and just ponder it all. I have to dust off the Bible and refresh my spirit with the Story. It is a story that makes me weep in awe and joy when I’m able to silence the screaming rush of the world.
Christmas is not about presents and parties and decorations and outdoing the neighbors and baking cookies and getting the latest video game. Those things can be fun in moderation, but they’re not Christmas. Christmas is a baby laid in a straw-filled manger, lulled to sleep by angels. Nothing more. Nothing less.
And that’s all we really need to know, to believe, to trust. The rest will take care of itself, so just let it go.
My wish for you is that you have a very Merry Christmas, and that you are able to feel wonder and magic and joy in your heart.