I “grew” this week as a follower of the Christ-Child. It started while saying goodbye to a fellow parishioner when leaving Sunday service. I asked if she was ready for Christmas. She was not. Unfortunately, I bluntly responded, “Neither am I. I can do without this season.”
She quickly replied, “Oh, I love Christmas.” I attempted to save face, adding that I do love time with family.
Faced with my own initial response, I examined my heart’s intent during the week. Why do I feel as I do? Is this normal?
Christmas is the sacred celebration of Christ with us. As “God with us,” it is the celebration of Emmanuel. For this I have always been grateful.
I enjoy sending Christmas cards. I enjoy midnight mass. I enjoy time with family. I enjoy the Christmas meal. I enjoy sending “Merry Christmas” text messages to friends the day of. I enjoy opening presents. I really enjoy giving gifts to my sons, family, and friends. I also enjoy singing Christmas carols up until January six.
Every year, Christmas comes and goes. There are moments of pure joy engulfed by overarching dread. This makes me wonder, “Where is my Christmas spirit?” Why does this season seem burdensome?
It took five days of inward reflection, and some prayer, to arrive at the answer—hustle and bustle. It’s both the hustle and bustle, as well as the concept of a “perfect Christmas.”
There is no “perfect Christmas,” and with this I must come to terms. It’s okay; Jesus himself did not have one. I mean, really! There was no room in the inn. He was laid in a lowly manger! Yes, he received thoughtful, expensive gifts by the visitors from the East, but this was afterward. For his birth, he only received the worship and adoration of humble shepherds, strangers whom his parents welcomed as guests.
What is it about times of gift giving and times of family meals that cause me to miss the mark?
I reflected on stories from the Bible for guidance.
Job celebrated his children’s birthdays. Yes, it is said that he was also rich, and so I imagine he gave them expensive gifts which in no way hurt his monthly “budget.”
Martha hosted Jesus and his friends for a meal, and did a superb job, but missed out on the joy of entertaining the company.
And then there’s Esther. Upon saving her people, her Uncle Mordecai sent this proclamation for a time of celebration, “that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.”
Presents to the poor–this is Christmas.
Whether rich or poor, or somewhere in between, Christmas is about equality of gift giving, not about our gifts, but about God’s gift to us. His is a present to the poor of heart, to those who sit in darkness, to you and me, alike.
We could all easily become overwhelmed in the hustle and bustle of this season, overwhelmed by creating the ideal Christmas, with our respective routines and customs.
There will be Christmas. The table is prepared. The china and cloth napkins will be laid out, accordingly. A family member will ask for paper napkins and this is okay. Our differences and similarities complement the Christmas Narrative.
I hope to always remember that the meaning of Christmas is Advent, not vice versa. Christmas comes so that we may prepare our hearts to receive Christ through our fellow humankind. Christmas comes so we may give the gifts we sought out during this Advent season, and in so doing, we may share with others our longing for a great Epiphany, hope and redemption that is ascertained for all to receive.
I have found my Christmas cheer today. If I get lost along the way in worry over the hustle and bustle, or in the chaos of hosting guests, it will be okay. Our understanding of the liturgical year is one of the best parts of being an Episcopalian! Advent will come again. Christ will come again!
Christmas is here. I have sung along to my first Christmas song as of this morning. Advent is here, though Christ has already come into this world.
Christ makes all things perfect, including this season. I can aspire to celebrate a “perfect Christmas,” not in what I do, but in knowing that through his grace, all I do is enough, like on that first Christmas morning. Swaddling clothes were enough.
And so, I write my cards to one and all, alike…
I’ve found some Christmas cheer today. An angel’s joyful claim,
“Oh, I love Christmas,” she announced, and pointed toward the way.
The anthem now begins, today, “Oh, I love Christmas, too.”
The heavenly hosts now join, in song, “Your Peace is born, anew.”
I have my Christmas gift this morn’, it’s wrapped in piecemealed cloth,
and now I share my Christmas cheer, a gift shared without cost.