“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” We see images of giggling children, jingling bells, beautiful decorations, delicious hot chocolate, bright colored presents, a glowing tree, and faces lit up with joy. Yet ours is not among them. Instead we see last minute shoppers hunting like wolves for that elusive parking spot. Santa Claus, wearing a cheap suit, is charging a ransom to take a few pictures with irritated children. Family members are bickering at or about the Christmas party. We are assailed with hundreds of signs, ads, and commercials, screaming at us about the true nature of joy, which apparently comes in small (expensive) packages from Tiffany’s. Our short time off work/school is torn between tens of different programs and events. Those of us that go to a traditional Slavic church, have double that, with church services on Christmas eve, Christmas day, and the Day after Christmas day. Rehearsals, recitals, reunions, and shopping receipts stir us into a dizzying frenzy.
We rush from the stores, hurry to church, rush home to open the presents, hurry to a party, rush to another church, hurry to another party. Then the music stops and we hear the sound of silence.
In a lifeless daze, we throw away the paper wrappings, save the bows for next year, clean off the table, slowly strip the tree of its life-giving lights, and settle down to write New Year’s resolutions that we will surely fail within a week.
There must be more than this. For many years now, every year I hear this desperate question: “Christmas was so amazing when we were young, what happened?” We happened. They happened. Together, “we” and “they” broke Christmas, because “we” and “they” made Christmas about our programs, our presents, and our plans. Can we fix this? Yes, but not with better programs, presents, and plans. No, the only way to fix this, is to remember.
1. Remember what you deserve for the past
As children, we did not expect to have the world handed to us on a silver platter. Instead, we expected very little, and so when we got a small set of Legos, or a pale plastic doll, we rejoiced. But as we grew, so did our expectations. And with this came disappointment. When our expectations were not met, when we did not get “what we deserved” we felt sad. Instead as you prepare for Christmas, remember, for your sin you deserve death, sickness, pain, and hell. If Santa really checked his list, you should have gotten cancer for Christmas this year. Instead, you are getting another ugly sweater. Remember how lucky you are when you hold that sweater. Jump for joy at that Grace that spared you.
2. Remember what you already have right now
You are reading this blog post on a machine that every single generation of human history would be amazed by. They would think this is sorcery and magic. Yet you casually turn on your computer, table, smartphone, and have access to all the information in the world. And you have a flushable toilet, for goodness sake! Most people that have lived on this planet use(d) the great outdoors. How would you like to use pine cones as toilet paper?! Yet, historically, and in many places today, that which is normal for you, is/was a luxury reserved for only the kings and the nobles. Billions. Literally billions. That is the number of people who DIED never experiencing as much luxury, safety, satiety, and health, as you have now. Dance with joy at the Grace that gives you daily gifts.
3. Remember what you will get in the future
You don’t deserve anything but wrath, anger, and punishment (don’t say “that’s not fair;” were God fair, you would be already dead for your sins). What is truly not fair, is that you will not get anything but love, warm affection, and a glorious reward for your evil. That “unfairness” is the beauty of the Gospel that Christmas gently sings about. As you open your final present for Christmas, don’t let gloom fill you. It’s not over. There is another Christmas present to be opened. Not today, but soon. Its already here, but not yet. God will pick up the universe in His hands, peel off the wrappers of sin, evil, time, and space to reveal a transcendent Kingdom. There you will stand, on an ethereal sea of glass, overflowing with tidings of gladness and joy, as Christ shall wipe away the last tear forever, and He shall be with His people in joy. That is a Christmas present you will get. Leap with joy as you think of what is to come.