Does your house look like this? The carols are playing on the stereo. There is a blazing fire on the hearth – with extra split logs neatly stacked nearby. Snow is gently falling outside. All the Christmas cards and packages have been addressed and mailed early. The smell of cookies baking – not burning – fills the house. The carolers are outside as a sleigh carrying children slowly glides by – harness bells jingling on a starlit night. All the handmade gifts are wrapped to perfection under the tree where all the lights are working. The children are neatly dressed in velveteen with white collars. Even the dog has a red bow around his neck. Your in-laws will arrive soon as the family gathers with smiles and warm hugs. And you smile to yourself that have money leftover!
If we are honest we have stood in the grocery line and thumbed through Martha Stewart’s magazine with wistfulness. She tells us that we can make everything by hand; the soufflé won’t fall; the packages are wrapped like masterpieces; we can look rested and be ready two weeks early. So that you can relax by the fire with your hot tea and homemade scones to listen to the carolers outside your spotless windows as you welcome family and friends to your hearth.
Good grief! That is not real life!! At least not at my house. The holidays arrive whether you are ready or not. We are bombarded with messages to spend and do until we feel that anything less than “all” isn’t enough. Our culture – even the church – has bought into the advertising message that families love to gather and they all get along – even the dog behaves!
Christmas isn’t about cookies, magic, shopping or snow. Somewhere along the line we have lost Christmas.
Have you noticed that real life happens on the way to Christmas? We talk about peace and joy. But few of us really experience it especially at Christmas. The lights are on the tree but not in our hearts. There is no silence in your night.
Have you noticed that problems and heartache don’t take a holiday? Christmas just adds to an overcrowded schedule and budget.
C.S. Lewis said, “Long before December 25th everyone is worn out – physically worn out by the weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think of suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making, much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.”
I want to ask, what does faith have to do with Christmas? That may seem like a ridiculous question after all it is the celebration of Christ’s birth.
What does faith have to do with Christmas in the real world as we sit in heavy traffic going over our long list of things that have to get done or perhaps sitting in a hospital waiting room or looking in disbelief at your foreclosure notice.
Perhaps you are dreading the season. Your family has one missing from the table this year and your heart is sad. Perhaps the ones that will come to your house don’t get along and that brings stress. One will come drunk or stoned. Perhaps you are not worried about decorating or wrapping packages because you are all alone this year. You have tried you best to shop on a thin budget; it is tiresome and you are weary of trying to be “creative”. And the gifts you carefully chose will be returned the next day. Perhaps you have terrible memories of the holidays and you are just hoping to hang on until January 2nd just to get through it.
What does faith have to do with Christmas in today’s culture? Christmas is for healing, about new beginnings. Christmas is about hope. I cannot teach you hope – I can only live out my own hope in the light of what the angel told a Middle Eastern man in a dream long ago. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1;20-21 NIV) That is the hope we have – forgiveness of sin, freedom from our burdens, God’s presence with us in our day to day lives, peace in the midst of the struggle.
That’s what Christmas is all about.