Maybe Christmas Means…

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It’s eight days until Christmas.

I hope that doesn’t shoot cold electric jolts down your spine due to a relentless, despotic ticking clock and more to do than time left to do it.

Even more, I hope that doesn’t cause you to think “Okay, just over a week, and then another week after that. Will I survive this time?”

I’m in my second Holiday Season back in the States. Last year, it all felt shocking and garish and ridiculous and loud. I loved Christmas in Nicaragua, even thought without cold weather and snow I had a harder time clicking into the Holiday mindset. I loved the slower pace. I loved how easy and natural it was to scale down our gift giving, especially with our children. They didn’t complain. They understood our situation and limits and responded more gratefully for receiving less than when we’d lived here.

And now we’re back, and the frenzy that is US consumer Christmas is upon us again and, I’m sad to realize, feels normal again. We’re still not the family that has a Christmas party to attend for each day of December. Our lack of popularity, though hard on the underdeveloped dimension of my personality that resents not being invited to parties I don’t want to attend, is overall a great relief. This year especially, when Kim is preparing for National Boards and is stretched beyond the reasonable demands of 24-hour days, I’m glad we’re not trying to pack in more than we can manage, much less enjoy.

Instead, we are slowly working our way through our favorite Christmas specials. Tonight we watched The Grinch, the original animated version (the only one we ever watch). Our offsprings’ responses to The Grinch have changed, from cheering at the end that this “he turns nice!” to stating quite early in his grumblings, “relatable.” We had a humorous discussion about how you might need medical attention if your “heart grew two sizes that day.” But watching the favorites again roots me in the nostalgia, all the way back to watching The Grinch with my late father when I was young enough to feel nervous at his evil plotting (and canine mistreatment) and even more unsettled at the question, “Would I sing and celebrate on Christmas morning if I discovered I got no presents?”

Our daughter Annalise just arrived back from Nicaragua. We were together again as a whole family last night–to celebrate my awesome brother-in-law’s birthday–for the first time in half a year. Being together feels like a bigger and more meaningful gift than anything you could wrap for me.

In my last post, I wrote about Small Wonders, opportunities for kindness and generosity that we have in this season. I’m not going for a Hallmark special here, but I believe you can make more real Christmas spirit through watching for these and seizing the opportunity than through a whirlwind of Christmas parties or a pile or purchases. Being together is also Christmas cheer and finding presents that express love to our loved ones does celebrate the season.

But it’s good to take a moment to step back and acknowledge: the form we have inherited/allowed/partcipated in shaping for Christmas is not God’s command for how we do this and may not even be God’s preference. We’ve done this ourselves. That being the case–and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find solid biblical precedent for all the trappings of a traditional US Christmas*–I think it’s spiritually healthy to question if we are living this season in a way that draws us closer to God, that helps us to offer grace and live joy, or if we are living it in a way that could best be described as “too much of a good thing.”

So I’m just going to ask: how could you know Jesus better in this holiday, in this Advent season? How could you bless someone not on your christmas gift exchange list nor your party invite list? How could you lift up the lowly or fill the hungry with good things?

I’m not telling you how to do this. I’m certainly not trying to add to your guilt or your overload in this homestretch. If you’ve struggled through, especially if you’ve been depressed or discouraged, I can relate and have written about my own experience being there. I hope it helps.

I hope, I really do pray, that you can slow down enough to ask the question. Is this what I want Christmas to mean for myself and for my family? Is this how I want to live Christmas?

*The “wise men” gave the baby named Jesus gifts. The angels sang. There was also a prophecy or song or spontaneous outpouring about “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)

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