It is less than a week before the big day, and my black Christmas mood is weighing hard and heavy.
The clouds begin to gather just after the Thanksgiving feast. Through the following weeks, my mood darkens with every carol, every card, every holiday ad for cars, jewelry, perfume, clothes and gadgets.
I hate Christmas.
I love the feast of the Nativity of the Lord.
Don’t get me wrong, I like having dinner with my family on Christmas Day, and I’m grateful for my loved ones and for the ability to provide for them.
But all the trappings of the holiday season — the gifts piled one on another, the effort of shopping and decorating, the parties and traditions we’re obliged to add to already heavy workloads — it all falls away on Dec. 25.
On that day, all we’re left with is a helpless infant in a manger – an animal’s feed bin – in a cave or rough-hewn lean-to, depending on your imagination. That infant, of course, is God himself become human, born this day into the suffering we all share, into poverty, into a weary world.
On Christmas morning, all the preparations are complete: gifts big and small bought and wrapped, the food ready to hit the table. All that’s left is, as the song goes, to fall on our knees.
The hype of Christmas drives me to my knees. From that posture of exhaustion, frustration and desperation, I can finally find this baby Jesus on his own level — helpless, completely dependent on the God of all creation for everything I need to live. From that perspective, the manufactured “joy of the holidays” melts into silly insignificance.
My faith in the truth of Jesus Christ’s life tells me he grew into manhood with all its ups and downs, its joys of family and friendship, and its hardships and loneliness. I know he entered willingly into a suffering more intense that I can imagine, a humiliating, slow and torturous death by crucifixion.
That death completed the life of Christ begun at his birth, and transcended it. All for our sake.
That is why I love Easter far more than Christmas. That moveable springtime feast celebrates not the beginning of the God-man’s life but the conquering of his suffering and ours. Easter marks the transcendence of death, the road leading beyond this life into eternity with the Father.
So with that view, I will put up with the maddening frenzy of these last days before Christmas. I will approach the crib of the newborn Savior with humility and radical simplicity. And I will look forward to that explosion of eternal light into our world that we celebrate at the Resurrection of the Lord.
We’ve been talking all during Advent about a hope that leads to rejoicing, but both themes seem hopelessly obscured by our rampant consumerism.
For many weary souls, Christmas doesn’t provide joy, but it can offer another gift that leads to it – simplicity. And that might be the best present for a world groaning under the weight of human suffering and manufactured abundance.
If we can strip away the detritus of our own making, we might appreciate the gifts of God and see, once again, that brightness of joy that he intended for us so long ago.