Christmas Is For Those Who Hate It Most

Four years ago I wrote this little article. It’s my favorite of anything I’ve written. One reason is I hear from people throughout the year about how helpful it has been. Usually it’s around Christmas, but I also hear from folks in July. But really I love it the most because there is so much of me in it – so much of my own hopes. I need what’s in this little piece as much as anyone. This year more than any.

It’s been a hard year culminating in a lot of lessons learned. Christmas will be difficult for a few different reasons. I’ve never not looked forward to Christmas, but this year I’m tempted. So I need to hear this as much as anyone.

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We are now accustomed to hearing how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his problems with the season is no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe this has always been the case. 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 one of these people 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 the pain. It’s been a story hard to forget.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense. Christmas is 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 for one is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year for another. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.

I’d like 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 are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen drinking perfectly mixed hot cocoa. 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, most-likely 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 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 those who need it. 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.

(Art: Blue Christmas Candle from Stushie’s Art)

Thoughts At Christmas For the Rest of the Year: Part 1, The Waiting

It must be awful for my kids. The day after Thanksgiving we told them that the Christmas season had started. But we then let them know it would be another month before the opening of presents. My 7 year old daughter looked a little downcast while my 4 year old son asked, “What’s a monf“? Confused, he joined his older sister in her determined impatience. The waiting is indeed the hardest part.

I remember looking through catalogs as a kid and staring longingly at the same circled toys again and again. I’d turn the page and look at another and then do it again. The girl’s section would emerge and I’d quickly start over again. All those longings merged into dreams of all the joy to be had when Santa came. The patience was painful.

Only the accoutrements of Christmas could tide me over till the day. Lights. Trees. Candy. Charlie Brown Christmas specials. Black and white Christmas movies. Parties. Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmas Time.’ And peering into the wrinkled pages of a Sears Wish Book.

My wife says I’m a ten year old boy trapped in a man’s body. Just because I want a wii and Beatles Rock Band for Christmas is no indication. But I do still long for Christmas. The waiting is still difficult.

Christmas has always been full of waiting. The Israelites waiting for the Messiah. Mary waiting nine months. Joseph waiting for Mary. Herod waiting to hear from the Wise Men. Even now we wait for Jesus to come again. Waiting for something to come is inextricably linked to the Christmas experience.

Isn’t it funny how for kids all the lights and trees and songs not only tell of the promise of what is waited for but also make the waiting really hard. Every twinkling light is a reminder of shiny new toys with buttons and blinking lights. The songs sing of presents and the joy of that morning. The tree is a towering promise of dreams nourished on hope just waiting to be fulfilled.

And so the waiting. Just like we wait for what is to come. And here we are – never knowing and understanding how long. Songs reminds us of the bliss. Every taste of choice fare is a reverse echo of what is coming. Trees remind us of the towering promises of God’s faithfulness proven upon a tree. And so we wait until that day.