Whew! Did you make it through the stresses and strains of Christmas? Did you “pass” the biggest test of the year? That’s what it often feels like when the last guest leaves, the decorations are packed away, and the empty boxes and pretty papers are stuffed into the trash can. Christmas is the most demanding, disrupting, disturbing, and sometimes depressing holiday of the year, so surviving it usually feels like completing a marathon- a combination of elation and exhaustion.
The first Christmas demanded the attention of the world. It demanded faith in an event that broke the rules and rituals of the time. It demanded a shift in attitude from hate and control to love and service. Now our celebration of Christ’s birth demands planning, time, work, and money. We have so many traditions and allow our children to expect such elaborate gifts that we set ourselves up for anxiety and disappointment. No other holiday on our calendar demands decorating, gifts, food, hospitality, charity, and travel. At Christmas time we want to see it all, do it all, and have it all.
Christ’s arrival disrupted the status quo and everyone from Joseph and Mary to King Herod found themselves doing something they hadn’t planned to do. Our Christmas customs disrupt our lives by requiring shopping, decorating, cooking, and socializing when we are already multi-tasking just to make a living and care for our families. The added physical and financial burdens often seem overwhelming and people set unreasonable goals for themselves and others. Just as Christ’s birth was foretold, we know Christmas will arrive, but we always seem a bit surprised when it does.
The Bible says that news of the birth of Christ disturbed King Herod “and all Jerusalem with him”. The celebration of Christ’s birth still disturbs those who do not believe and don’t want to be reminded that all the presents in the world won’t fill the void in their life. The season of love and giving disturbs those who realize they are not treating others with love and they are not living lives of service. And sometimes it disturbs Christians to be reminded that we can easily fall prey to the dazzle of glitter and gifts, and forget the miracle of the manger.
Christ’s birth must have been depressing to those who ruled the world at the time. Anger and intimidation, status and wealth were the tools of power. Then along came Jesus with his message of love and forgiveness and service…and people listened to him even when he was a young boy. So too, is Christmas depressing to people who think their lives are “just fine”, until holiday expectations shine a light on flawed attitudes and troubled relationships. The celebration of Christ’s birth forces us to give thought to the priorities of our lives and examine who and what is really important.
My prayer today is that our examination of what is really important has left us with the faith to carry on despite flawed attitudes and troubled relationships because once again we have been given the only gift that truly matters…the gift of God’s love.