Moment of candor: I’ve had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year.
It’s frustrating, because I love Christmas. I love watching holiday movies by Rankin & Bass. I love listening to Christmas Carols, both secular and religious. I love driving around town and looking at the light displays with my family. I love Christmas cookies, fires in the fireplace, and hot chocolate warmed on the stove top. I even love bad Christmas sweaters. Big, loud, sweaters with tacky designs? What’s not to love?
The Christmas Eve service at church is one of my favorite all year. The choir sings hymns like Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem. At the end of the night we dim the lights and the entire congregation holds up lit candles representing the birth of Jesus, the coming of light into darkness.
I LOVE Christmas.
But I’ve struggled with it this year.
It’s not just the abject consumerism that comes with the holiday. I enjoy giving and getting gifts as much as the next person. I don’t like how carried away people get, how the spirit of the holiday gets swallowed up by Black Friday mentality, but I still enjoy finding the “perfect” gift for people I care about.
The news hasn’t helped. Every day it seems more grim. Political divisions in the U.S. Racial tensions. Conflict Aleppo, Syria. Terror attacks in Germany, and Switzerland. Assassination in Turkey. Talk of bringing back the nuclear arms race.
It’s unsettling. It’s frightening. It makes it hard to sing about “Peace on Earth Good Will Toward Men”.
I’m trying to find a way through it, to get back to Christmas, because in some ways I feel like I’ve lost it this year.
Then again, maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe this feeling is exactly why we need Christmas.
I’m reminded of a story my old Pastor Dennis Wilkinson used to tell. He regularly went to prisons as part of the Kairos Ministry. I remember him telling us that they held a Christmas service in the prison gym. The inmates stood in a ring with their backs against the walls, presumably for safety sake. I remember Pastor Wilkinson telling us that they sang the hymn, “O Holy Night” and how the inmates sang it with ragged passion. When they sang the line, “Fall on your knees,” they belted it out with every fiber of their being. In prison, somehow they understood that the coming of the Christ meant freedom for captives. Christmas meant something infinitely more than pretty lights, tinsel, and packages with pretty bows. It meant that freedom had come.
When I re-read the nativity story, it becomes obvious that this feeling of uncertainty and fear was part of the first Christmas too. Jesus was born into an occupied country, ruled by a petty, vindictive dictator. Threats of armed rebellion and violent suppression by the empire were a constant reality. Religious infighting reared its head around every corner.
This is the world Jesus came into. This is why Jesus came. Because we desperately need Him. We need the hope that only He can give.
I’ll be honest, even though I know this I still feel anxious. I still have a hard time pulling myself away from the endless flood of bad news. I feel overwhelmed. But I’m trying. I’m trying to remember that this is WHY we celebrate Christmas. Because the world was (and is) lost and God came looking for it.
He came into brokenness. He came into fear and uncertainty.
He came into darkness and brought light.