Ah, yes! Call me a hopeless holiday romantic, but I have to confess that as far back as I can remember I’ve always enjoyed Christmas shopping. The truth is, I love the whole experience: from the joy of finding that one perfect gift to hearing the beautiful music of the season as it floats through the air around you. Most of the time, I don’t even mind the crowds; all the people milling around simply puts me in mind of the fact that though our individual traditions may vary with age, geography and circumstance, nonetheless as Christmas approaches, we’re all engaged in the common dance of Yuletide celebration.
Not that everyone is happy in the dance, mind you. Once a few years back while shopping in a store at a mall, an admittedly and understandably overtired cashier greatly undercharged me for an item I was purchasing. I was just trying to be honest, and very politely pointed out her mistake; but to say the least she was not amused. You would have thought that I had asked the impossible of her, and after banging the buttons on her cash register with a force I had previously not thought possible, she thrust the change from my purchase into my hand and sent me on my way with a very icy, “Thank you . . . Merry Christmas!” All this was not lost on the woman standing behind me; as I turned to go, she patted my arm and said to me, “Maybe you should have just taken the discount!”
I realize, of course, that this cashier’s decided lack of holiday cheer was likely more the result of a long day filled with irate, cranky shoppers than it was a “bah humbug” attitude. But I’ve often thought the experience served as something of a parable as to the way some people receive Christmas itself: a gift that has been given freely and lovingly, and ought to be received in the same spirit, but instead has been rejected out of anger, pessimism and the encroaching burdens of life.
I’m reminded of something that Richard C. Halverson, once a Chaplain of the United States Senate, said about this: “Imagine having your gift turned down… Someone you love greatly – whose gift you purchased with the profoundest care… and it is refused. What indescribably disappointment there is in rejected love… If Christmas is not the receiving of God’s Son, Christmas is nothing! Were it not for Jesus Christ, there would be no Christmas… Leave him out and Christmas is meaningless.”
It’s true that oftentimes we become so overwhelmed by all the trappings of this season that we risk becoming a bit cynical about Christmas and forget its true meaning. We begin, however subtly, to view this season as merely “something to get through,” rather than what it’s supposed to be: a celebration of God’s gift of joy and love in the person of his Son, our Savior Jesus. Some would suggest that we ought to somehow “downsize” the way we “do” Christmas to keep that from happening, to not buy into the world’s creeping holiday commercialism; and indeed, there’s some real wisdom in that. But perhaps the real answer is for us to make Christmas more than what it often is in the world today and to let it be all that God intended: a time of worship and praise for the redemption and renewal of humanity that has come in the most unlikely of ways: through a tiny baby born long ago in an outback village amidst farm animals and visiting shepherds. Perhaps the real key to Christmas joy is in simply receiving the gift that’s been given to us: God’s own Son!
With only two weeks to go now, Christmas 2013 is drawing near, and consequently, for most of us things are getting busier and busier with every passing day; my prayer for all of us about now is that this will prove to be true in a good way! But I also hope and pray that all the holiday hustle and bustle will not come at the expense of the advent work of preparation that still needs to be done; that each of us will indeed take the time for prayer, meditation and worship in anticipation of Christ’s coming; and in that to be made newly appreciative of what God has done and continues to do in our world and in each of our lives.
Indeed, in this time of gifts and giving, such awareness might be the best present of all!
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry