When I’m in a sad mood one of the things I do is play Christmas music. If I’m in a really sad mood, I play Kenny G Christmas music (and don’t take any cheap shots there (-:). When I was growing up, Christmas was always a happier time. For most of my younger life, times were hard. My parents worked pretty hard on making it so we didn’t know they were and it wasn’t until I was in Jr. High that I had much realization of it, but they were. And then once we hit Jr. High age, my parents started having marital problems (that continued right up until their divorce when I was a Junior in High School [or a little after]). But despite any of that, Christmas was a happy time at my house. My family would actually spent time together. We’d watch movies and cook cookies together, we’d decorate and go shopping for each other, getting caught up in the excitement of getting things so unpredictable or expected and surprising each other. Christmas was a time that I looked forward to with GREAT anticipation.
My family wasn’t terribly religious growing up. We occasionally went to church because we’re from the mid-west and that’s what you do… especially when you have children of a certain age who can participate in Youth Groups. And we always had a crèche and knew that Christmas celebrated the birth of Jesus. But it wasn’t something we emphasized.
So why do things seem different now? Is it simply that I’ve grown up and nothing that captured me with awe and wonder as I was a child can do so now? Why is it that I could anticipate the celebration of Christ so much when I hadn’t even fallen in love with Him yet, and now, it’s just like another day off of work… like President’s Day or Memorial Day? I still go through to motions of decorating and listening to the music and gift giving, but it’s not filled with as much… I don’t know… magic? Butterflies in my stomach? Hope? Joy? Wonder?
And it saddens me. Shouldn’t this be the time of year I’m able to MOST embrace those things? Why does it feel so much like a celebration created to cause stress and hurry and worry? How is it that, even with effort, we can’t seem to fall back to the basics of what is behind the season? Is it that by trying, we alienate ourselves from the complex simplicity of God dwelling with us? In the hustle and bustle I can’t even imagine having the time (or money) to make chocolate chip cookies with my mom, or watch 3 different versions of a Christmas story with my dad, or go and pick out the perfect, unexpected gift for my twin sister? And I know that that’s not Christmas, but that’s what I remember making it so special. How do I completely shift the view of the Christmas I grew up with into anticipating time spent with Jesus marveling at his love or with God reveling in his compassion, or with my Christian brothers and sisters, praising the Lord who unites us all? They say that sometimes just doing those things helps change our feelings. But to me, it just feels like more doing. Something else I have to try to plan into my life, something else to cause stress when it’s not done right, something else to make me hurry from one thing to the next.
I still anticipate Christmas. Every year I still cling to the hope that I’ll experience it like I did when I was a child, with such joy and sublime wonder. And every year I feel let down. It sneaks up on me and then the next day it’s gone, replaced by cold Illinois weather, icy streets and an even icier hearts of those around me, even in me myself.
Could it be that I need to stop anticipating Christmas? Could it be that, instead, I need to revel in this time of advent, in anticipation of the time that Jesus comes to be with us all again? Could it be that we’re missing something, even in the most basic celebration of Christ’s birth? Could it be that, without the anticipation of his second coming, there is nothing really to celebrate in His birth anyway? For how can we anticipate what has already come, what has already been done?
Wait, maybe that’s it… Christmas is a season of remembrance towards Christ’s birth. The anticipation of the season comes from his promised return. Just as Easter is the remembrance of His death, resurrection, and victory over death and a celebration of His promise to return, Christmas provides us an opportunity to reflect on His greatness and look forward to His presence, both in spirit and in body.
Well, goodgoshgollygeewilikers, that changes things. I’m not ready to anticipate His return. Maybe that’s why I feel empty at best and anxious/nervous at worst. Maybe the proper way to approach the season is to begin actively working towards being prepared to anticipate rather than anticipating the past. Maybe the emphasis placed on being kinder to fellow man and reconciling relationships is a part of the remembrance that we are not from nor for this world and should be striving towards something greater, anticipating every day a time when there will be no more pain or sadness, no more tears and no more stress. Maybe we need to be anticipating that which the season represents and not the season itself. Just as it is impossible to anticipate the wedding of friends who got married last year, it is impossible to anticipate the feelings of happiness and belonging that you experienced when you were 12. But you can anticipate the life of love your friends will live and the joy of reconciliation that might occur in your family.
And it’s equally impossible to anticipate the birth of a savior born thousands of years ago. But it is not impossible to marvel in the hope that that birth represents and to anticipate the joy that the fulfillment of that hope will bring.