Christmas Is For Those Who Hate It Most

Who is Christmas for?

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 in her voice. She was sure 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.

All the hurt and pain and disappointment with the expectation of joy and excitement make it hard for people to love Christmas. In fact, some hate it.

But 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,  and we imagine how they 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 all those who have squandered the family name and fortune, prodigals who 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)

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. What is so unusual about the newest Avett Brothers album is it says things about those who would be our enemies that Christians should be saying but are not saying. Our culture creates enemies out of every opinion. It makes love harder than ever. True Sadness is an album of profound insight – seriously, really profound – throughout each and every song. But the song “No Hard Feelings” is a song I needed to hear over and over. I’ve included the video below.

2. The gospel is not merely good news among other stories. It is hope against all hope lost.

3. It seems to be customary on social media, particularly Twitter, to be against hate speech, while still feeling comfortable ridiculing your family publicly. This confirms that many who are against “hate speech” are actually more concerned about being part of the crowd that is against “hate speech.” They are not interested in loving people so much as being seen as the kind of person that does not participate in hate speech. For they make it clear they are okay with being seen as being unloving to their family. Which is cool on Twitter. And that’s what it’s all about, really.

4. When I order anything that is not through Amazon Prime I feel I just mailed off 8 box tops for an exclusive 3-D Bob Horner baseball card.

5. I’ve been thinking about Paul’s thorn. Wondering what mine could be. What do I pray to be removed but that God has graciously not removed? I know what it is. But it makes only a little easier.

6. There are Christmas traditions I hold dear, but none more so than turning off the radio when that Wham song comes on the radio.

7. There is a way to allow something that dehumanizes men and women.

8. The birth of Jesus was a political event. For he is the hope that ends all hope in rulers and politicians.

9. Christmas is for sad, disappointed people. The poor in spirit. Because that’s who Jesus came for.

10. The best part of the Christmas season is Bethany.

Random Thoughts For A Long Weekend

1. The hardest thing to believe is our sin is our greatest problem and the gospel is the greatest news possible.

2. If God loves us and he gave us the Scriptures because he loves us, then his Sovereignty over all things is good news for the hurting.

3. They get paid for your clicks.

4. I went to a concert where a mosh pit formed and I got clocked in the back of the head. From that moment on I’ve only wanted to listen to Jazz and big band. 

5.  Went to see Tim Keller speak a few days ago and I’m still reeling.

6. I still believe the church wil truly be thinking deeply, not when it is trying to engage artists and creatives but when it is trying to engage accountants and plumbers.

7. Gospel hope is never a cop out. I didn’t think it was a cop out when my son was born and he would just stop breathing and no one knew why, it wasn’t a cop out when we ran out of money, and it wasn’t a cop out when my daughter was diagnosed with ASD. Gospel hope is never a cop out.

8. Last night we watched an old black and white movie and there were no gross scenes, no explosions, and no gritty language and it was exceptional. Weird how that’s possible.

9. Coffee and John Coltrane on a cool Fall morning.

10. If my wife is so smart how did she end up with me?

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted because broken hearts find it easier to see need of him.

2. I posted something earlier this week about how Christians think they are going deep when they talk about art and culture but I think they are going deep when they talk about things like plumbing and accounting. I said this, not because art and culture are not needed topics, but because they are easy topics. Straight lines between theology and art. But plumbing? Accounting? The vocations we need but are never really celebrated – when we are tracing those lines, then we’re thinking deeply.

3. The King of Kings does not flinch because of an election.

4. Two weeks from today till Sean and I are reunited with Robert, Pete, and Leah.

5. With all the contempt the NFL has shown towards those who exposed CTE, do you really think they would care about a player involved in domestic assault?

6. “You twist the light in your hands /It moves and sparks/It’s all the love you can give/Reasons fall from every storm that you lift/We move through the dark, helpless”

7. I miss my palapa in Cancun like a fat kid misses cake.

8. We do need songs that sound like quiet flowing streams. But we sure as heck need songs that sound like Apocalypse.

9. Work that dehumanizes participates in the Fall of man.

10. I miss sitting under a palapa with Bethany in bathing suit.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. There is a bent part of me hoping Dylan doesn’t even go and get the Nobel Prize.

2. Sometimes worrying about the possible negative consequences of presidential elections, feels like a luxury.

3. Those things which can bring the most joy also are in the position to deliver the greatest disappointment.

4. I know you don’t think you can drink Mango Tangos all day in the Mexican sun, but you can. You really can.

5. The other day I saw two young ladies studying in the library. They looked so young and everything was held so lightly. Their laughter was nothing but beautiful. They both wore hijabs. This was the only thing that stood out about them except their laughter. And it was like no one was there for them to be self-conscious about. They weren’t just alone at the table, the room was empty. I wonder if I’d be the same. 

6. If you don’t think Dylan should have won the Nobel Prize because he does music and not Literature, then the Psalms and the Greek choruses are excluded as Literature too.

7. When I walk over my front yard and hear the crunch of dry grass under my feet, all I hear is, “You don’t have to cut me anymore.”

8. Keep in mind that Shakespeare wrote plays, which were the pop culture of the day. Actors and playwrights were not held in high esteem like today. Once you know this you can understand why Dylan may be a good choice for the Nobel Prize. If you don’t understand Shakespeare’s influence on Literature and culture, shame on you. If don’t know Dylan’s, same.

9. If the NT writers didn’t feel the need to condemn the Emperors of Rome and their policies, our leaders should feel no need, either.

10. Some days the pain is slight. But most days it is in technicolor. HD, even. I’m tempted to look down at my hands and say, “It’s the damnedest thing.” But I suppose I’m to take it all as a blessing. Knowing and doing and very distant cousins.

Random Thoughts

1. Baseball is almost over and I hate everything.

2. This morning I woke up far before my alarm. And one of the first things I did was go stand in the front yard and look up. The sky was pockmarked with stars and everything was completely silent. No cars heard in the distance. No dogs barking. No leaves rustling. And then I took a barefooted step and could hear the grass under my feet. You don’t get many quiet moments like that.

3. I tried to listen to the new Bon Iver. But here’s the thing – it’s terrible. The Emperor has no clothes. It’s barely music. And he may need to go to rehab.

4. People are threatening to not watch the NFL because of the national anthem protests. And the NFL is not doing anything about it. I don’t really care about the protests, but really? The cover up of CTE was not enough, but this is your last straw? 

5. I don’t understand how any Christian could support either candidate for president. 

6. I have basically given up on reading music critics. Amazon reviews are worth far more. I care more about what housewives and plumbers think than experts.

7. I saw Jason Isbell twice in 5 days. And now it’s hard to imagine any concert not by him being any good. Maybe it’ll pass.

8. I don’t understand how any Christian could fear any presidential candidate.

9. The only thing that could make me feel better after listening to almost 3 songs on the new Bon Iver album was Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.

10. I just realized this is a “get off my lawn” version of random thoughts. Can we blame it on lack of sleep? Also I need a Werthers. (Puts on cardigan.)

Random Thoughts

1. At some point we will learn to wait. Until then we will send out bromides while knowing next to nothing.

2. Going to a Jason Isbell show at the Alabama Theatre and listening to everyone sing “Alabama Pines” is a powerful thing. My heart didn’t stop beating till about 1 AM. 

3. It’s not that I’m not writing. I’m writing as much as my hands will let me. And right now that’s a short devotional for my SS class each morning, excluding Sundays. And it’s the most enjoyable writing I’ve ever done.

4. Went to a BBQ restaurant and couldn’t finish my meal. I don’t even know me anymore.

5. I’m really not sure who you could compare Jason Isbell to. His ability to play guitar masterfully, write great melodies with truly poetic lyrics, and have a voice as great as an Alabama dusk, seem pretty unparalleled right now.

6. In two weeks we’re going on vacation and I feel as if we’ll sail into that rest with tattered sails.

7. I don’t wanna brag but I did win the cornhole tournament at work.

8. I miss my parents. It comes and goes. But for some reason I’ve missed them in a deep way this past week. You never really move past the grief, you just get used to it being there.

9. I couldn’t believe how many older folks were at the Isbell show. I’m talking 70 plus years old. It was great.

10. Going to a great concert is fun. But going with Bethany is my absolute favorite. Especially when she enjoys it as much as I do.

Random Thoughts

1. The older I get the more comfort I find in the things I don’t understand about God. When I was younger I wanted all the blanks filled in. The pages full of explanations. But as my hair grays and my joints stiffen a little, I am content with mystery. Not knowing reminds me now that I am not God and my frustration at not understanding is a kind of reaching for the wrong  fruit in a garden full of what is freely offered. This is a kind of sober worship, I think.

2. I’ve listened to just about every recording by Bill Mallonee. And I can tell you, none have disappointed. Everyone worth my time. That’s pretty incredible considering there are more than 70 albums. 

3. The way normal people talk about football teams and players they don’t like – ridicule, anger, etc. is exactly what most of us tell our children is unacceptable  when they are actually playing a game of any sort. We teach them gloating and ridicule is unacceptable behavior and then blow up social media every weekend with the same. 

4. Not too crazy about the new Wilco. And the artwork is awful. Too much irony. But a bad Wilco album is still interesting.

5. I just finished Russ Ramsey’s book, Struck, which is coming in 2017. It is a truly wonderful book. The writing is superb. But what I can’t get over is how unique it is. And it just drips with the wonder of God’s grace, sufficient for whatever comes our way.

6. High and lonesome records with coffee as the sun rises.

7. I don’t know if the people I work with get me. My family sometimes – oftentimes look askance at me. But pizza? Pizza gets me.

8. I was listening to Jason Isbell yesterday and noticed something I had not noticed before. I think one of the reasons he’s such a great songwriter is how efficient he is with words coupled with brilliant details of the human condition, we can all relate to. That’s rare.

9. There is nothing you can read in a news story that can change the reality of Jesus’ unending reign stretching into forever and evermore.

10. It’s taken me days to work on this post. What I once did quickly now takes me much more time. My hands hurt. The doc isn’t entirely sure what it is but it’s certainly caused by typing all day long. It’s disappointing. But what rings in my ear is my pastor’s recent sermon where he asked, “Are you willing to experience unfairness so you can be a blessing to the world?” The answer to that question changes as the pain increases and the weight of being a writer is considered against what is at stake in that question. Please pray for me.

Random Thoughts

1. I really do no think we can think about heaven too much. Maybe I’m speaking for myself alone here, but I tend to forget the hope of heaven when the pains of this world are few. When sorrows are kept at bay. When the engine lights are off and ease is the order of the day. Heaven is not then on my mind ’cause I’m tasting it here. Maybe I’m alone in this but I’m guessing I’m not.

2.  I’ve been listening to Bill Mallonee (formerly of Vigilantes of Love) this past week and it hurts to know that many of the instruments he’s used in the songs I’m listening to are now gone, just so he can pay the bills. Maybe that’s why his songs are so good. He has some blood in the game. I mean how people are we listening to struggle to keep the lights on?

3. I had pizza last night and all was well.

4. Last night I went to a Samford University Women’s Volleyball game. The brains and athleticism are an impressive display. The joy and smiles on their faces are inspiring. And it was fun for everyone. Even the losing team looked like they were having fun. It seems to me this is what college sports should be about. 

5. It is hard to read of Mother Teresa’s own medical care at first world hospitals and the testimonies of those who worked with her talk about the disparity of the care they provided to the poor.

6. An entertainment obsessed culture will care little that those making the money on the entertainment knew the entertainment was irrevocably harming the entertainers, but kept the hurting in the dark. Entertainment rules.

7. The church must be able to love while not flinching in her convictions.

8. My kids ask me 457 questions a day and I know the answer to maybe three.

9. We live in a culture where if you are rich and famous you are more likely to receive free meals and gifts than if you are poor.

10. I love my early mornings alone. More than that, I love Bethany interrupting them.

Random Thoughts

1. Mike Campbell may be the most underrated guitarist.

2. My pastor’s sermon from this past week has affected me more than any other that I can remember.

3. I used to eat pizza every day. Okay, not *every* day. But I thought about pizza every day. Now I never eat pizza. Pizza calls though. Well, not calls, but texts. It’s actually the local pizza place. I forgot where I was going with this.

4. Don’t change anything based on a news story. Nothing. Okay, maybe the weather is an exception.

5. Tom Petty said “Mudcrutch” was the worst name his first band could have come up with. Their newest album is fantastic, though. Really, really fantastic.

6. Dusting off my Romans commentaries and using them weekly is the best thing.

7. Most Christian writers today are emulating one of three writers. Either John Piper, Ann Vos Kamp, or Jen Hatmaker. They need to be following Buechner and Hemingway. 

8. My 2nd grader hasn’t had any homework yet and I truly have no idea if this is good or bad.

9. Christianity is a fight to love the resurrection more than this beautiful world.

10. Coming home to Bethany is better than money. Or records. Or even pizza.