You know that season. Heightened expectations. Consumer madness. Stampedes of shoppers assaulting and killing each other to score the latest pair of Air Jordans. Profound loneliness in the midst of manufactured jollyness intended to boost retail sales. Yet still, poignant moments of gratefulness. Family togetherness for those fortunate enough to be with their loved ones. Joy and gladness for Immanuel, God with us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. The best of times and the worst of times in dissonant conflict.
It explains why so many of my acquaintances and friends have discarded any thought of celebrating Christmas at all. Some even resent the words “Merry Christmas” being spoken to them. They have been jaded by years of seasonal disappointments and frustration. Some are angry about impossible mall parking. Others take issue with the concept of celebrating Jesus birth in conjunction with pagan concepts. They point out that we do not know precisely the year or day when Jesus was born, but we can be reasonably sure it was NOT on December 25, and that God never intended to have Santa Claus usurp attention from the Christ Child. And then there are those who simply hurt during the season because of grief from the loss of loved ones. For all of these and others, Christmas is the worst of times.
Ironic isn’t it? In the days of Jesus’ birth and following, it also was the worst of times, made better only by his Advent. Herod was on a rampage. He decreed genocide on all male first-born infants two years old and younger. Joseph protected his young family by fleeing with them to Egypt. An outcry of horror rang out in Bethlehem and beyond for a lost generation of boys. But God providentially protected the newborn King. In that day, the announcement that Messiah was born was anathema to the prevailing, ruling culture. It threatened Herod’s throne. Herod lashed out with vicious disregard for human life.
Today, the celebration of Christ’s birth is at risk of becoming anathema again, this time due to guilt by association. But what can be done?
I harbor no resentment toward retailers. Many are honest, hard-working people struggling to make a living. The holiday season from Halloween to New Years is crucial to their yearly revenue hopes. I do take issue with some of their tactics which lend themselves toward riot situations and spending frenzies. It is why I choose to opt out of participating in typical holiday shopping, choosing instead other avenues for gift giving to friends and family. Bottom line, while I give gifts which I hope are helpful or meaningful, I prefer to focus most of my attention on Advent itself, on Christ the child, the man, our Savior.
And so begins the best of times, the best of what the Christmas season can and should offer. It sparks in me life change. It exposes the dark places in my heart and introduces again the attitude and character of Jesus Christ. It prompts me to follow the beloved disciple’s example to lean into Christ so that I may sense his heartbeat, his sacrificial love, his ongoing conversation with the Father with whom he evermore has an immediate audience.
Has the holiday season burned you out? Are you ready to throw in the towel on Christianity and faith in Christ because of the seasonal excesses and confusion? I invite you to join me in forgetting all the mixed messages and to focus on your relationship with Jesus. Talk to him. Listen as well. May the Holy Spirit wash away all hurt and anger and sin, replacing them with a reconciled relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
With this attitude in mind which was modelled by Christ according to Philippians chapter two, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a truly Happy New Year.