Originally printed in the December 2011 Covenant Courier
“Happy Holidays.” – Ugh. I tire of watery generic holiday greetings that border on the absurd – “hope you have a super winter solstice”, “best wishes for your winter holiday season”, “may you have a happy non-sectarian semi-religious holiday of your preference.” – bah! Wish me a Merry Christmas and be done with it!
Yet, before I fully indulge my inner Ebenezer Scrooge, shaking my fist madly at pudding headed holiday pablum, I should look at the log in my own eye. Yes, I may curmudgeonly complain about the expansion of Christmas to a comical monthlong marathon of merriment, but still I enjoy it. I enjoy the round of parties and the sending and receiving of well wishes. I actually like Christmas music (or some of it, anyway). I put our tree up right after thanksgiving. AA Milne’s “King John’s Christmas” is required reading every year in my household. Decorations, lights, trains, and Crosby and Clooney singing “White Christmas”, all bring me delight. I confess, bold words aside, I’m as sodden as the rest with the holiday.
And yet something gnaws at me. Where is Jesus in the mix? How is the celebration that I enjoy different from the hyperventilating revelers who dilute Christmas into a bland ‘be nice season’? Perhaps I send a religious card with angels and wise men – maybe I even put the Madonna and Child stamp on the envelope. Of course I go to church and enjoy singing carols. I’ll give a little more this year – putting something in the Salvation Army kettle or volunteering with United Ministries or the City Gospel Mission. I’ll boldly say “Merry Christmas.” Lord, have mercy on me. That’s the best I have.
Lord, have mercy, because my little Christian gloss on the holiday is a band-aid for a hemorrhaging wound. Meanwhile, I stare at the face of a cultural machine that pumps out opiates to masses huddled in the cold facing an eternal night of mortality and meaninglessness. The machine offers diversion – games and toys, beer and circuses. The machine coaxes us to celebrate harder so we won’t notice the coming of night. And the machine whispers to us the lie that maybe if we just get a little of that good old holiday spirit, then everyone will be nice to one another and our time before the dark won’t be all that bad.
In contrast, how silently the wonderous gift is given. Immanuel, God with us. In Him is life, and the life is the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. He, who is fully God, became fully man. He experienced pain, weakness, longing, and fear, yet without sin. And He lives even now and calls to us in the deep quiet caverns of our hearts – he calls us to put our deep trust in Him. Through Him we trust in the hope that God is not calloused and indifferent, but loving and gracious and near. Without Him, parties and celebrations and feasts and cards are but ashen diversions before the bone heap. With Him, they hint and foreshadow the fullness of the feast of the Lamb.
Jesus indeed has mercy. He removes for a time the log from my eye, and I see I’ve had it backwards all along – I don’t need to undergo a campaign to “put Christ back into Christmas.” He’s been there all along. My deep aching need is to have more of Christ in me. And that is my prayer for this Christmas season. May it be so for us all.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo