I felt it tonight as I heard the strains of familiar Christmas songs coming into my mini-van through the radio.
The Christmas spirit.
But for me, and untold numbers of others, the Christmas spirit can be a mixed drink of the joy and celebration of the birth of Jesus, and some happy memories, shaken and stirred up with other unhappy memories and a vague sense of emptiness.
However Jesus never intended a celebration of his birth to be bittersweet, for anyone.
The day that was announced to the shepherds (and to all of us) with the proclamation, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord!” along with “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” has been twisted into a holiday garland with some other elements God didn’t include with His original gift.
I’m not talking about the commercialism. (That was another year’s Christmas blog.) This year, I’m thinking about expectations.
We know our lives fall short of Eden, and we have all learned to accept or deal with that daily, some of us more successfully, and on some days more contentedly. But we do it, more or less.
And then, the Christmas songs and commercials start. And they bring with them attached expectations of the season they herald.
Above all, they pull up expectations of our relationships at this time of year. “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Expectations of family and friends being there for us. “You can count on me.” Expectations of what we should experience together. “Please have snow and mistletoe and presents round the tree.”
The media is cunning and cruel in the way it plays on this essential desire we all have. Each commercial, each picture in every store window, each ad in every newspaper flyer depicts families and friends together, smiling, happy, warm, perfect.
And honestly, very few of us have the perfect picture. Some of us are single parent families, and the holidays bring into focus our deepest sense of loss of the family picture. Some of us don’t have living parents or siblings or extended family, or don’t have good relationships with our living parents or siblings or extended family. Some of us are simply a long way away geographically from people we want to be with. Some of us are single, and wonder if we will ever share a Christmas happily snuggled up by the fire with that special someone. Some of us are married and wondering the same thing.
But as we experience these feelings, do we ever stop to wonder why the season that celebrates the birth of the ultimate Hope into the dark world is causing us to feel barren? Do we question why are we looking to our fallen human relationships to bring us light at a time when the focus is supposed to be on the Light of the world, Emmanuel, God with us?
Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of our relationship with God, through his son Jesus, and Their gifts of life and love and salvation to us. This is the anniversary of God giving us redemption and friendship with Himself, wrapped up and presented to mankind.
This is a friendship and a redemption that can be experienced in spite of everyone and everything else around us letting us down and falling short.
As they inevitably do, and always will to some degree, this side of heaven.
But in the midst of relational deprivation (or what we perceive as such), we forget have been given the ultimate Relationship.
A perfect Savior, who loves us perfectly.
If this were indeed our focus at Christmas time, we would be less melancholy, less frustrated, less depressed, and much less lonely. Of course, we would have to turn off the radio, and the TV, and stay off the internet and hang out with Jesus a while to experience it.
And while we may not find an image of that on Christmas cards or crooned about on the radio, I suspect it would bring us all a great deal more peace (inside) and goodwill (not just toward men).
That’s my personal goal this year. To let all my disappointments and expectations that I attach to people at Christmastime go, and to focus instead on the one relationship that got the whole Christmas thing started.
Emmanuel. God with us. God with me.
Now that's the real spirit of Christmas.