Update: My friend Collin Hansen – talented author & editor – posted this on The Gospel Coalition Blog.
(This is a slightly reworked version of “Christmas Is For Haters” from last year. )
We are now very accustomed to hearing about how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his – ehem – problems with this season is no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.
Not too long ago, I heard from someone about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter hopelessness and devastation. Christmas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of this pain. It’s been a story very hard to forget.
I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.
But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.
But this is so damnably backwards. Christmas – the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer – is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshippers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds; beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.
Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son, whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when the son wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for whores, adulterers and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune – they want ‘home’ but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray.
Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a Universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it the most.
I couldn't agree more.The problem is that for even the most "devoted" Christians, Christmas is more about family time and the holiday spirit (whatever that is) than about the incarnation. Or, equally troublesome, it's a pragmatic Christmas where Jesus' only purpose was to die. Fighting against commercialism, sentimentality and moralism is a hard battle but one the church needs to take seriously, because it matters. We need to recapture our sense of wonder, to worship God in the midst of the mystery of the incarnation. But mystery makes people uncomfortable. It's easier to just be sentimental.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.I think we all needed this.
Your essay on the GCB was part of the meditations of this season that provoked a poem. So thank you. Maybe you are one of the few who doesn't run from the room when a poem is starting to be read. Maybe you would like it, you can find it here: http://thenface2face.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/this-shall-be-a-sign/Karen Butler And your blog has gone into my favorites, though like you, I am less and less online, especially with all the effluvia of Facebook. And I don't even have a cell.
This is absolutely beautiful. And – I completely agree.