Monday, December 26, 2016

Getting Christmas

It's been a long time coming, but maybe, perhaps, I am finally getting Christmas. For some reason, it has been a life-long struggle for me to embrace this winter holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus. I have been a scrooge before. I have often found Christmas music annoying. I have watched in amazement as others get so amazed at Christmas. Really?

Today, on the day after Christmas, I don't feel any let down at all. I believe this is a first. And I hope I feel this way because I finally, to some small degree, get Christmas. I'm certain that getting older has helped me. And perhaps being forced (by virtue of my vocation) to be all up in Christmas has allowed God to get through to me.

There are a lot of different ways to view Christmas.

Some ignore it entirely, but that's extremely hard to do in America.

Some tolerate it as an excuse for people to celebrate. The gift giving, excessive partying, ugly sweater wearing, song singing, overeating, and family visiting are bound to happen. It's just what people do. Calling it a celebration of Jesus' birthday works just fine.

Some despise Christmas with all its phony, sentimental claims of magic and seasonal happiness. Everyone knows that Christmas is fake, and only a rare, honest person will actually admit it. But the truth tellers have to be very careful not to express this discovery in the wrong company. The willfully deceived can't stand to have their bubble burst.

Some people persuade themselves that they experience the peace and joy of Christmas, but deep down they realize that they have to suspend their disbelief to get there. It's like a journey to Middle Earth: the magical feeling can only come when you tell yourself that hobbits, elves, and dwarves are real. For them "believing" equals make-believe. But it's worth it, because you can really enjoy the holiday.

Some have tried to experience peace and joy at Christmas, but they never quite get there. They tell themselves that they have not tried hard enough to do Christmas right. They approach Christmas with a deep longing every year, and always find themselves disappointed. Maybe next year.

Some have given up on Christmas. They go through the motions of the holiday, but secretly they can't wait for January. They put on a happy face and pretend to enjoy it all. They wonder if it is really real to all those Christmas lovers, but they doubt it. So Christmas becomes a grand interruption of normal life. You just smile and nod, knowing that it will eventually be all over.

And some people get Christmas.

Christmas is about believing. And there are different levels of believing. Some believe in the shallow aspects of Christmas: the glitz, the stuff. They believe they will have fun, and so they do.  Some believe a little more deeply in the relationship aspects of Christmas: family, sharing, volunteering. They believe that they will love people, and they do. Some believe in the depth of God's love, intimately revealed in the birth of his Son. They believe that God reveals himself, changes hearts, and restores this broken world. And he does.

So how am I finally beginning to get Christmas?

Well, God is doing this work in my heart. I can't take credit for it. But here's what I am realizing more and more.

I am loved. Jesus loves me and that changes everything. The world looks different to me when I remember that I am loved.

I am blessed. God speaks good things over me. He doesn't keep me from struggle or all harm, but he constantly reveals his goodness to me. I can trust him.

He is with me. Whatever I face, whatever mistakes I make, whatever evil is aimed at me . . . he is walking with me. Not only is he for me, he is with me.

When I am secure in Christ, I have real freedom. I can smile. I don't have to fix people. I can let his goodness flow through me to others.

I'm not expecting magic at Christmas. I'm learning to receive what God pours out in my life, every day, including the Christmas season. So Christmas doesn't annoy me so much anymore. My attitude is better. On the day after Christmas, I still feel his joy. Maybe, just maybe, I'm getting Christmas.