We have been rescued from our enemies
so we can serve God without fear,
in holiness and righteousness
for as long as we live. – Luke 1:74-75
All the evidence is in, and it looks like – once again – the reality of “The Holiday Season” comes in as diametrically opposite to the serenity advertised in the typical greeting card, Hallmark movie, or nostalgic yearning in hearts hungry for innocence and peace. We note the unspoiled purity of love that we see in children, and we want it for ourselves but we don’t know how to get there.
Friends tell me they are already overcommitted, over scheduled, overwrought, and overdrawn… and it’s only December 6. The next few lines are paraphrased from real people:
- I wonder if everyone feels as stressed over the holidays as I do?
- I’ll be honest, I dislike the Christmas season and its inherent busy-ness. Maybe the Puritans were on to something?
- My house needs fixing but I have no time to finish what I start.
- My child needs financial help but I can’t without going into debt myself.
- The Christmas season seems like an endless trudge up and down stairs to the attic.
- Every time I look at the checkbook this time of year, I wonder just what is going on around me and WHY?
- I’m a total wreck right now and it feels like it.
What do we truly desire?
There’s a recurring scene in “Lucifer” (my favorite contemporary television drama and guilty pleasure). Lucifer Morningstar – who is AWOL from Hell and consulting with the LAPD – looks into the suspect’s eyes and asks the question they are always compelled to answer truthfully: “What do you want? Tell me, what is it that you truly desire?”
So let me ask you the same thing. What is it that you truly desire? You see, I believe we tend to go all out to get what we believe is our heart’s desire, and we move heaven and earth for something we really want. That’s the whole schtick of the advertising business; hold captive someone’s desire and – afford it or not – they’re going to do everything possible to buy the product.
I think that what is wrong with Christmas lives at the desire end of the equation. 16th Century mystic Saint Teresa of Ávila said, “Oh God, I don‘t love you, I don‘t even want to love you, but I want to want to love you!” It’s the same principle that launches the spiritual journey in GET REAL – we have to begin with “desire”, and then move into “discipline” if we want to get beyond what holds us back.
What we think we want is neither what we need nor what God offers. There is this constant tension between the romantic, nostalgic, “Hallmark version” of the holidays and contemporary reality.
It’s a reality that:
- exchanges three feet of pristine snow for wet, icy, slush;
- trades idyllic family harmony for “Jerry Springer Live” in our living rooms;
- ditches “Silent Night Holy Night” and wakes up with “Another Tequila Sunrise”;
- eschews the beauty of seasonal magic in favor of this frenetic rush to cover all our Yuletide bases just in time to roll into the candlelight service Christmas Eve and pretend – for an hour – that we are experiencing peace on Earth and Goodwill to all people.
I have long known that Christmas is hard for some people. I’ve had my own bouts with Christmas blues. But I have been surprised how many people in the little congregation I now pastor have told me they just want Christmas to be over. It depresses them for various reasons. Almost half my congregation have expressed that in one way or another. So I’m preaching a lot of “Jesus came to a vastly stressed and imperfect world. He is with us here. The simple fact he came is cause for gratitude and a kind of comfort and joy even if nothing is merry.” I think that has to be the source of any real celebration. Tinsel and twinkle lights will not finally restore our souls, but Jesus will, and the incredible gift of his coming and living and dying and living again does bring us peace and love, even when the season doesn’t.
You’re right. I think a lot of people are tired of the false narrative that Jesus makes things easy if you’re “right with God.” It’s the “with us” part – right there in the brokenness – that makes faith so vital and meaningful…
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