Christmas Expectations and the Angst That Results


December 27, 2016

Sunday was the first day of Christmas.

What were your expectations?

Christmas means trouble to some people. Angst actually.
They look at it with dread, not anticipation.

While there are complicating issues (aren’t there always?), I believe there are fundamentals at work in this. To begin: we have sentimentalized Christmas. We have built layer upon layer over the reality. Second and third tier layers obscure the first tier – the only Tier. We have placed knick-knacks on the shelf alongside Christ the Messiah.

We have our expectations.

  • There must be snow.
  • The tree must be near perfect.
  • Everyone I love must be near me.
  • I need to play carols every waking moment for six weeks.
  • Nativity set must include wise men.
  • We have to eat certain foods and drink certain drinks.
  • I must tell my kids about Santa Claus.
  • Traditions, traditions, traditions.
  • Christmas is about family and friends being together and having fun.
  • Ugly sweaters.

Now don’t accuse me of being a Grinch. Oh, that reminds me:

  • We need to watch vintage Christmas cartoons.
  • We need to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
  • What’s Christmas without perfectly wrapped packages?

We’ve all experienced the big buildup. Christmas Day is presumed to be climactic, after the minimum two  months of extended hype and binge buying. I think I first glimpsed Christmas cheapness in stores as early as September this year.

Think now of the day Jesus arrived – the Incarnation.

There was no public buildup. In the place of hype: invisibility. He was unnoticed. His arrival marked the First ever Day of Christmas. Celebration followed.

Christmas evening is not when everything stops. The Twelve Days have just begun. That day is the start of something, not a disappointing letdown after the annual fling.

The Incarnation. That’s what I want occupying my mind the next 12 days. And beyond.

No, I’m not a Grinch. I’m reaching for deeper, richer, fuller, more lasting joy. We tie our hopes to superficial things. That’s what diminishes the joy, not soberly reflecting on the coming of the Holy One.

Sure, how can I possibly deny that people this year have experienced great sorrow? How can I deny that it feels different when a close loved one, a spouse, or a family member, is not with us during this holy day? I know. My wife and I lost three parents between us in the space of nine months in 2007. The last one passed in October. We know this.

Sorrow is part of the human condition.

But does this change Christmas? It might change how we experience it. It might change what we do. But does the essence change?

The essence of Christmas is not any of the things we often dote upon. For example, why would we limit the possibility of the majority residents of this planet enjoying Christmas, because there’s no snow?

Snow doesn’t have a thing to do with Christmas. It has to do with a song that was written in 1942. And maybe Pickwick Papers.

Acknowledgement: Reading this traumatizes some of you.

There is much controversy about when Jesus was born. No one really knows for sure. It’s not very likely he was born in the winter. And even if he was, there likely would have not been snow where he was born.

In Bethlehem, the average December daytime temperatures reach high as 57, and the average minimum temperature around 42°. Snow is not impossible in Bethlehem in the winter, but the average is one day for the month. When it happens, it makes news.

Consider more: what about everyone in the southern hemisphere and temperate zones north of the equator? Is it truly the case that they cannot experience the full impact of Christmas? If you believe that, might not you be the Grinch?

Parochial outlooks confine Christmas. Our expectations diminish Christmas. When our expectations are not met, Christmas becomes troublesome to us. We think that’s the time of the year when everything should be just right, and even sinners should show their good side.

For some balance, have a look at a different Christmas:

I suggest we change our expectation and our perspective. I suggest we remember – really remember – the Incarnation. What better idea in history has there ever been? The Almighty put aside everything about him, and joined our human daily life.

If we place our perspective toward the Incarnation and let the superficial stuff be what it is, then might sorrow change our understanding of Christmas? In fact, sorrow can enrich the fullness of the Incarnation.

I heard on the radio recently that cardiac arrests spike in December, in the US and in New Zealand. So, it’s not just the cold dark winter. New Zealand has Christmas in the summer.

What are we doing to ourselves?

Did Christ come, as one of us, to add to our stress, our activity, our frantic plans, our sense of hollowness and loss, our ill health?

I think not.

Christmas is not just an event.

It’s an awareness of reality – a celebration of a historical event. There was an Incarnation at a point in time. But it’s also a celebration of the ongoing eternal gift.

The effects of the Incarnation aren’t over in a few days. They aren’t over these 21 centuries later. We have just experienced our annual little pitiful human attempts to observe and remember that momentous invasion of our space.

Some branches of the church intentionally observe Christmastide, the 12 days of Christmas. I believe more of us need to do that. Let the celebration begin on the First Day and let it permeate the next couple of weeks as we reflect on the event and the results of Christ come to earth.

Suppose He had not come at all. Everything would be different, and not just in December.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are far more than an annoying song. But still, if you want:

PS: If you want to read my 2015 series on the Twelve Days of Christmas, you can go here. Start with that article about the First Day, then click through the arrows to see the rest! And let me know what you think.

You can comment below right here (click the little balloon on the right of the center column), or on my Facebook page.

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