Christmas is just a few short weeks away and everywhere you look the world is anxiously preparing. Stores filled with shiny decorations, lights popping up in front yards, people swinging little brass bells next to red kettles – all sure signs that Christmas is near.
I have a confession: I don’t really like Christmas. I don’t like the marketing, the greed, the family tension, the stress, everything that has become wrapped up into what the Christmas season means in our culture. And honestly, Christmas is a lot of work – the shopping, the cooking and baking, the dragging kids to relative’s houses. I need a break, not more to do. I’m already tired. As a parent, the thought of taking life up a notch to celebrate makes my head spin.
There is an incredible amount of pressure during the Christmas season. The materialism of our culture has highjacked the heart of Christmas, but only so far as it causes us to buy into their values. We feel simultaneously pressured to fill our lives with more and more stuff and, at the same time, pressured to not indulge too much. To somehow find the acceptable amount of joy; don’t be the Grinch, but don’t have too much fun either. How is a person supposed to find peace and joy in the midst of all this?
We need a bigger vision.
We need a vision for Christmas that is bigger than happiness and loving others, bigger than our traditions and serving those in need. I have felt the tendency in my own home to reduce Christmas to a holiday for children organized by adults, but Christmas is not a moralizing lesson. It’s not even just about the baby in the manger. The celebration of Christmas awakens our souls to the larger story of the gospel. Christmas is about the Word of God becoming flesh. Our celebration of the incarnation of Jesus is a resounding cry that darkness does not have the last word. In our remembrance of that day is felt the longing for the feast of the Lamb.
It’s that vision that I have to cling to if I want to find more than superficial gladness at Christmastime. Because sometimes it is hard to be joyful in the midst of holiday celebrations. This season is an opportunity to radically realign our lives and our hearts toward the Kingdom of God. So as the decorations go up and our home is filled with more clutter than I’m used to, I’m going to let the realignment of my space remind me to prepare my heart to be a suitable place for Him to dwell. When I’m across the table from the relative who is difficult to love, I will remember that their soul longs for the same things mine does and the very act of celebrating the birth of Christ together answers many of those deep longings. When I’m tempted to shake my head and sigh at the meal so quickly eaten and the pile of presents so hastily unwrapped, I can choose to realign my sense of time to realize that these small moments of satisfaction are only part of the greater celebration we are participating in.
A few days ago, my kids asked if they could cut down a Christmas tree from our woods and set it up in their playroom. I said yes. This might not seem like such a big deal to you, but for me, it was a full-on, intentional pursuit of joy. It was a realigning of my own plan, a laying down of my own expectations, and a choice to see my children as people who need to celebrate. And now that sparse little tree is bringing us oh so much joy.
Give yourself room to celebrate. Pursue joy this season.