What, precisely, are we looking forward to? We live in a culture of immediate gratification, and we already know how the story turns out. We’ve been here dozens of times before — after all, it happens every year. We have managed to layer cultural crust over the sacred celebration to the point that Christians are as glad Christmas is over as they are that it is coming. Looking forward to getting through Christmas is not the same as looking forward to Christmas. And I am as guilty as anyone. Christmas comes, not as a blessed comfort, but as a runaway freight train. Shopping, decorating, gift-wrapping, gift-giving, gift-receiving, cleaning, travelling… on and on. By Boxing Day I am ready to crawl into a cave and hibernate.
Every year I make a pledge to simplify — to take more time to pray and reflect, to calm down and rest, to sit in the warm glow of candlelight and listen to glorious Christmas music — to slow down and pay more attention to the spiritual magic of the days. But I am too reactive. Pressure mounts, time slips away, I get busy, days get hectic, and Christmas comes — and I sit wondering how it came so fast (pledging to do much better next year). Well, it’s time to take control. It’s time to identify all the traps and trappings of the season, and to say “NO” to those that add nothing of value, but in fact rob the days of much of their significance.
When I reflect on the very best Christmas memories of my life, they aren’t about all the frantic activity, but about the simple, joyful times with loved ones. I don’t think as much of gifts given or received as I do the people I spent the time with.
I need to learn how to wait better. Patience is not a spiritual fruit I bear in abundance. Waiting requires a calm spirit. Waiting requires a measure of serenity and balance. Waiting is active, not reactive. Waiting requires the other spiritual fruits of peace, gentleness and self-control. Waiting is a spiritual discipline — one that requires cultivation and commitment. It also calls us to be in the present moment in a non-anxious, accepting, and attentive way. I get too distracted. I think about all the things I need to get done, or begin thinking about what I want to do in the future (not to mention all the things from the past I find ways to worry about). The NOW is often elusive to me, and I realize that until I can make peace with the present moment, I will not be in any shape to enjoy hopeful anticipation.
So, Jesus is coming again — and I don’t mean “The SECOND COMING,” but the annual arrival of the newborn king that should be a gentle and significant reminder of why I am here and what I need to value and how I need to stay focused. But the road to the manger where all I need do is kneel and adore has somehow gotten buried beneath cards and shopping and decorations and baking and trips to the mall and trips to the post office and holiday parties and church pageants and choral presentations and wrapping paper and trees and candy and cookies and the 400th viewing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and 273 different versions of A Christmas Carol (…thanks a lot Disney!) and a whole bunch of other wonderful things that entertain but drain energy and eliminate time and make it just that much harder to really BE ready for Christmas!
Am I whining too much? It is all my own simple and simplistic way to abdicate any and all responsibility of what I let Christmas become. No one is doing this to me. It just happens… and I let it. I love Christmas — all of it. And that’s the problem. Christmas is like a snowball down the side of the mountain. With each passing year it picks up speed and mass. There are more cards and more presents and more programs and more parties… and I seem to lack the backbone to say “no.” I, like the Apostle Paul, know what I should do, but I will most likely continue to do the very things that I should not. But at least there will be carols playing and friends and egg nog. I just hope I remember to make it to church occasionally.