We’ve endured a love-hate relationship for as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of waiting for dad to get home from the fire department at 8am on Christmas morning before we could open presents. Mom would barricade us in the back of the house until his arrival while she made breakfast. We would sit in the hallway impatiently testing our boundaries until the front door opened. I distinctly remember running into the living room to find all the Barbie accessories set up and ready for play one year. And on another Christmas morning the purple velvet dress, hat, and shiny Mary Janes on my favorite doll. These are probably my two favorite memories from childhood Christmases.
Often encircling these fond memories are the shroud of deciding which day to schedule our celebrations, as dad worked a 24-48 schedule, whether or not one brother or another was happy enough with their gifts, and which day our extended family would finally corral themselves together. As I have learned of late, corralling any sort of people following vastly different schedules is nigh impossible.
And even yet, this season has been marked distinctly by questions in my own heart. For years I begged friends and family not to buy presents for me: a boycott of sorts. I’ve struggled with the finite details – that Jesus actually graced us in human form during some warmer month, perhaps spring or summer, rather than this wintery day we mark each year in red and green.
We didn’t trek through rows and rows of evergreens in boots with red-handled saws to find our perfect Christmas tree until my high school years, or perhaps thereafter. Bringing a tree in as a sign of Christmas celebration was “too pagan” or “too baptist” according to the group I learned many of these traditions from as a child. And even as an adult, the roots in paganism and fertility goddesses made me question the additions. Santa barely showed up on a gift bag here or there or in a movie we watched, let alone as the bearer of gifts.
And why should I receive gifts upon gifts during this one day in late December that marks not our Savior’s birth. Rather, they stand as symbols of our own gluttony and gold-lined credit cards (because rarely do we spend within our means here in America) while we turn blindly from those whose hearts hurt from loss or fingers from cold during this time of year. I could easily stand on a soapbox and shout the distortions of our society, drawing credibility from suicide statistics and the increase of homelessness in our great nation. I could draw upon the very nature of our hearts to trim everything in gold and white so as to hide the flaws, instability, and staggering decay within. And yet..
Christmas, you offer more than just these blaring issues and faults. Somewhere beneath the mountains of ripped paper and decently overpriced gifts there lies a quiet hope and a twinkling joy. When glittering ribbons settle and we’re all in our corners wearing new socks caught in the aftermath of short-lived excitement, something else stands quietly still in the corner.
Those evergreens, pagan though they may have been at their roots and fake though they may have come in boxes from Walmart or Target, they stand forever green. What better example of our faith? What better example of our Savior, even? No matter the scientific season of His birth, He came during a time of winter, a time when life lie dormant beneath years of silence and separation. This one God with us stood starkly green contrasting the gray fog and cold white snow that covered the earth, a quiet reminder that Life, that Love and Covenant, like breath still reigned.
There again, joy, like heat, shines red in this season – in ribbons and tags, wreaths and ornaments, sweaters and twinkling lights. This still small hope of life and love ignites the cold that often settles deep within us, from rejection, pain, or distrust, and burns away all the pieces taking up spaces without purpose. Joy light shines through our brokenness, our pain, our callousness, and gives us tender hope.
So, Christmas, I don’t hate you. Sometimes I think you cause us to act preposterously, but only exposing issues already existing within our nature. I appreciate the whimsy and the silliness you bring as we don hats and ribbons and sing loudly for all to hear. But most of all, I appreciate the quiet hush in this season that can just be heard beneath the silver bells and crooning of Bing Crosby. It’s quite a different hush than the one between crucifixion and resurrection. We wait still with bated breath, but with a much different tone of anticipation: one highlighted by shining stars rather than dense grey skies. This silence listens through the stillness for the sounds of a baby’s cries. Our hope still rests entirely on one man showing up, but less weighted by the sins we bear. It is still. It is small. It is hidden. Even in the placidity I hear trees stretching and bending, waking themselves for the coming hope as joy breathes new life into cold bones.
Joy, oh joy, for Christ is born
the babe, the son of Mary.