They always want us to say “Happy Holidays!” Never ‘Sad Holidays’ or ‘Mad Holidays’ or ‘Bitterly Disenfranchised Holidays’ or ‘Oppressively Isolated Holidays.’ No, they always want us to be happy on this magical memorable highly commercialized day.
But let’s face it, for many of us, this day is less the experience of familial bliss and aud lane sine and more like being home alone with a screaming toddler serving tuna sandwiches because you have no local family, you’re stuck at home because no place is open, it’s too cold to play outside, and no one thought to invite you to any festivities, or even text you a Merry Christmas.
I understand now why some people choose to navigate holidays under the influence.
Christmas is beautiful if you have local family that is close knit, friendly and always gets along, if you can get out of the house, if your house is pretty, if you have decorations and a tree, and what a bonus if you don’t have to pay for airfare or road trip from 6, 12, 18 hours to see relatives. Meanwhile, the very same day tends to accentuate and exacerbate lack of privilege, lack of community, lack of resources, lack of local family, lack of reliable friends.
Not to say this is not a remarkable holiday because Family! and all them Cookies! and by the way Advent! and Jesus!
At the heart of all the hype is the truth of Immanuel, God is with us. The Word made Flesh, come to dwell among people so that He may redeem them.
That is a joy of the purest sort.
Also a long-game sort of joy.
The original Christmas, the night of Jesus’ birth was a trauma. Childbirth is physically and emotionally painful. Being impoverished and displaced is frightening, disorienting and disempowering. The Nativity was a night of impoverished and displaced refugees, isolated in a cold and dirty barn, lacking adequate resources to have suitable lodging and medical care. Childbirth is blood, water, pain, and maybe more blood. It’s an event that messes with a woman’s hormones and can wreak havoc on a man’s sense of competency-to-care-for-his-family. Add in some unexpected unfamiliar company(shepherds, Magi, and much later assassins,) and you have an event that is memorable, but certainly not a cheery gift card.
Peace on earth good will toward men, at least the rich, pretty and popular ones who have a warm house and good food and friendly people.
Somewhere the original trauma of the Nativity got lost in a heap of church tradition, then some pagan influence, then some good old fashioned consumerism, then a socially competitive people’s absurd drive to impress everyone with how perfect their lives are by being able to have the biggest, prettiest tree, the coolest family traditions, and of course, a cluster of smiling children on a greeting card. Again, those things freely available only to those meeting the right criteria, and who knows how authentic all those smiling faces are anyway.
Let’s be real. Holidays are drama. Stress. Longstanding conflicts put on awkward hold for a weekend, a day, four hours, two hours, a ten minute phone call. Holidays are expectations, demands, schedules, and most of all, IMAGE.
But if He came to accomplish anything, it was to show us that our hope is not in this world.
Peace on earth is not when everyone likes you and creates magical moments with you. Peace on earth is when people find hope in dark times and go on loving each other even when the other causes them pain.
Joy will not be found in more of the best stuff or the perfect decorations or the Instagram family photo. Joy is found in simplicity. Authenticity. Presence. Even presence with difficult people.
Hope will fail if all we try to do is meet(or strive after meeting) unrealistic expectations set by a commercialized, materialistic, fragmented society for what meaningful observance of a holiday is supposed to be. Hope is found by fixing our primary attention on something bigger than ourselves. A person we love. Family. An important cause. God Himself.
So yes. Happy Christmas. Joy to the world, peace on earth. Please have snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree. For me, this day was lonely, stressful and highly underwhelming. To others like me whose Christmases and other holidays do not meet the Instagram Gold Standard, I salute you – and assure you that you are not alone.
And rejoice, rejoice, for Immanuel has come to ransom you from death’s dark shadow. Chains shall He break, and in His name all oppression shall cease. I spent today fully present with my family. We worked together, played together, I did get frustrated and impatient with my toddler, and later we reconciled. We lived a real day together that was marked by love and commitment. For us, a sign that the redemption of Christ is real, active, much more than a cleverly rhymed sentiment.
There is a peace to be found in the craziness.
There is a joy to be found in sorrow.
There is a very real hope to be found in the depths of lonesome angst.
Christ has come.