By the time this issue hits the streets, we will have consumed the Thanksgiving turkey, logged more than a hundred hours watching football, strung the Christmas lights everywhere, and spent considerable time making “to do” lists.
Some of us planned ahead and some of us did not. We are either pictures of peace or in pieces by now. I used to think I would get the details of shopping and decorating out of the way early so that I could focus on the “real” meaning. I told myself that same thing for years.
Did you know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way again and again and expecting a different result? Well, this year I am going to be intentional. A group of friends and I are gathering for the next four Monday mornings to do an Advent study. I haven’t even begun to decorate. I am going to do Christmas in a different way for the first time ever!
I resolve to keep the “main thing” the “main thing…” or better said, “the main Person” the “main Person.”
It has recently dawned on me that we expect God to show up in the dramatic and the huge moments only because we think we can handle the normal routine on our own. And so we “over plan” the perfect Christmas and expect the Lord to show up when everything else is finished because only then will we have time to notice Him anyway. And we miss completely the comfort of His presence with us in the inevitable frustrations like long lines at Target or the “currently out of stock online” messages we get as we try to streamline our shopping. “First world problems,” as they say. Recall that the three wise men did not have to deal with any of that.
Impatience is visible everywhere during the season of peace and joy. And then just when we think the worst is over, there is the unexpected event that completely rearranges our picture of what Christmas is supposed to look like. How many Christmas celebrations have dissolved around the tense words or angry outburst of a stressed relative or friend?
That is the moment when you remind yourself that the Hallmark channel’s Christmas movies are make believe, and you could also read the chapter in MaeMae’s Grandmother Book on Life Givers and Life Sappers. And just one more cynical observation — could the Hallmark channel’s overwhelming success be because deep inside we all adopted a specific Christmas card image back in our childhood and we are still waiting for it to come true? News flash — it’s not going to happen. If the world had existed in the Hallmark channel version, would Jesus have bothered to come?
But finally, the good part which is the really good part.
We have it all upside down if we think the peace of Christmas depends on even one piece of our personal circumstances or the good behavior of the most difficult person in our personal circle. The gospel of John tells us that “The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus came because of the darkness and in spite of it. He still comes to us exactly that way.
There were few distractions for those shepherds on the hillside around Bethlehem. They were alone and enveloped in the darkness when the bright light shone around them. How could they not pay attention? God did not change their place in life. They did not win the lottery or get to retire after the trip to manger. They were still shepherds. And yet, they were not the same. There was a joy they had not had, a peace they had not known. It was meeting Jesus that changed their lives.
We affluent Americans are enveloped by our own 2019 brand of darkness although most of our darkness is camouflaged by the glittering trappings of our abundance of stuff. And it can all be so deceptive in the message it speaks and the empty promises it makes. My social media suggests we live in some discontented times.
Christmas, the very real Christmas that the one true God orchestrated 2000 years ago, carries a timeless message for us right here where we are at this moment. The unchanging treasure, the very best gift ever, is the arrival of “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” Let’s make Him the center of it all this year.