The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always difficult for me. It brings out a lot of my character flaws: judgement, shame, fear, depression. I hate the commercialism. I hate that so many people focus on Santa Claus and forget what Christmas really is. I hate the sales and doorbusters, and the long lines of people desperate not to miss the “big deals” at 7pm on Thanksgiving Day. Most of all, I hate the deep feelings of inadequacy I feel because I am not financially well off and can’t buy all of the things I’d like to for my family and friends. Money has always eluded me somehow and this time of year is a constant reminder of all I don’t have when I should be grateful and thankful for all I do have.
I feel a lot like Charlie Brown some days, wondering if anyone can tell me what Christmas is really all about. Every year, in a desperate fight to remember what I already know to be true, I struggle against all I see around me to hang on to what’s really important.
Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.
Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy. For unto to you this day, in the City of David, is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And He shall be called Wonderful counselor, Almighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
O, thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, arise! Shine! For thy light is come. And the Glory of the Lord is Risen upon Thee.
Emmanuel. God with us.
Christmas is the day that the world receives God’s greatest gift to us — His only Son. Jesus is not born into wealth and power. His parents are turned away from any proper and comfortable place to stay, and forced to stay the night in a stable. Jesus is born among animals and laid in a feeding trough. There are no festivals or trumpets at a palace to announce the birth of His greatness into the world. His birth is announced by angels to the surrounding shepherds and foretold to the Magi by a star in the East. Only the Magi’s gifts to Him signify our Lord’s future: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Jesus came into the world as we all do, born of a woman and helpless. He became one of us to save us. He took on our human form to make us more perfect in our humanity. He was and ever shall be Emmanuel: God with us.
The Christmas decorations in Costco in August are bullshit. The decorations put up before even Halloween and taken down the day after Christmas completely miss the point. The anticipation of Christmas has become one long and drunken cluster fuck. It’s gotten to the point that we don’t know what we’re celebrating or why we’re partying anymore. We’ve become so preoccupied with maxing out our credit cards to buy shit we don’t need for folks we barely know that we don’t remember that’s not the gift giving that Christmas is about. The greatest gift we can give is ourselves to each other. We can give our time to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We can offer shelter to the homeless and comfort to the sick and dying. We can be the light that shines in the darkness of someone else’s life, just as Jesus was the light of our world that had descended into evil and darkness. We can strive to be more like Him because He became like us to lift us up.
God became man so that we could become more like God. That is love, pure and simple.
There wasn’t much under the tree this year. We had a lot of unexpected things pop up and drain our already strained financial resources. Money has never been tighter for us, but we are still standing. We have all we need: food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and employment. We are paying now for mistakes we made with our money years ago, and that is only fair. Our children are doing fine and have all they need. Most of all, we have each other and we have love. Love is all any of us needs. The rest is all gravy.
Each year, I watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special as I have since I was a young child. When we first married, I watched it with John. We introduced it to our children in anticipation of their first Christmases with us. Now we have it on DVD and our kids have watched it enough to memorize it. Even though repeated viewing has made it less “special” than only seeing it once a year like we did when I was a kid, the show is still relevant and timely in its message. I see myself in Charlie Brown’s struggle to find meaning in Christmas despite being surrounded by materialism and the outward trappings of commercialism. Most of all, I see my husband in Linus and hear John’s voice speaking the words from the Gospel of Luke. I hear the words and I remember. The tree doesn’t matter. The decorations don’t matter. None of the lights or piped-in muzak matter. The only thing that matters is the greatest present of all.
Jesus was born. He is, truly, the real reason for the season. The day after Christmas is not the end of the season. It is the beginning of the celebration. God is with us! Let us rejoice and be festive. Let’s turn on the lights and have our parties now! The twelve days of Christmas that we sing about don’t end on Christmas day — they BEGIN that day!
Our need to commercialize Christmas has turned its true meaning on its head. We have turned it around to rouse people into a frenzy of buying and drinking. Spending has replaced praying. There is no sense of wonder and anticipation anymore. Christmas has become a big letdown, a sigh of relief from the orgy of overspending, overeating, and reckless indulgence. Our economic drive to spend more during the “Christmas season” than any other time during the year has caused us to forget what we’re even supposed to be celebrating. Money has become the God we worship. We are too embarrassed and ashamed to even acknowledge God during one of the holiest times of the year. Christmas has become some twisted and perverted shadow of itself. That’s why we have to ask what its true meaning is. How pathetic is that?
It almost seems that Christians are ashamed for all the wrong reasons and proud and cocky for all the wrong reasons. We are mocked and ridiculed because we don’t even see the hypocrisy of what we’ve become. In an attempt not to offend anyone, we’ve watered down our faith to the point that we don’t remember what being a Christian really means. We bear the title and expect the accolades without understanding the responsibilities or wanting to be held accountable for our shortcomings. How many of us even remember what Jesus said and did, or what He wanted from us?
So, in the spirit of the season, I implore folks to remember what Christmas really is — not to be exclusive or intolerant, but to hang on to what we truly are and stand for. Turn the focus away from money and possessions and go donate your time and talents to feed the homeless. Give toys and clothes to community organizations who give presents to children from families in need. Remember that our true riches lie within ourselves and our spirit. To give of ourselves freely is the greatest gift we can give. We are all — old and young, physically fit or disabled, rich or poor, and every other distinction — made in the image and likeness of God. Let us pay our respects to our fellows by seeing them as such. We are all equal in the eyes of the Lord. Who are we to put ourselves above our equals?
Give of yourself. Give more than you think you can and more than you think you have. Give even if you don’t think you have anything of value to give. The inn keeper probably didn’t think he had much to offer Mary and Joseph, yet he is remembered for his generosity and his stable is remembered as the birthplace of our Lord. It is not always for us to know how our gifts will change the course of someone’s life, so give anyway.
Whatever your faith, or even if you are not inclined to believe at all, may you find peace and joy in this time of reflection and celebration. May your spirit be restored and your strength renewed. And may you share the best of who you are with the world. Spread joy and love wherever you go. Love is something we can all believe in.
Merry Christmas to all, and best wishes for the healthiest and most prosperous New Year.