I do love this time of year. I love the excuse to decorate my home, to light scented candles and listen to Christmas carols. I love to plan and make delicious meals, Christmas cookies and cakes and look forward to savouring all the different Christmas flavours. I love to send cards and good wishes to old friends, to choose and carefully gift wrap presents for my nearest and dearest, and to dream of white Christmases and open fires. I love the opportunity to feast all my senses during this rich season of colours, flavours, and aromas. I love that December is so rich with possibilities. I love that we end the year on such an upbeat note. I look forward to it and I relish it.
If truth be told, this time of year is intoxicating with the kind of intoxication that makes us take leave of our senses, at least temporarily. For a few insane weeks we throw caution to the wind and overspend and overeat, and we conveniently forget or ignore that January is coming. In our imaginations, Christmas becomes the culmination of all our desires and we put our all into its few short hours, willing them to last, but too soon it is over, once again, for another year.
Each year it seems that the shops and the shopping malls push Christmas on us earlier and each year I find that my idyllic notion of a peace-filled Christmas is rudely interrupted by the noise and glare of the Christmas music and decorations every time I venture out into town. Does anyone else feel like Christmas has been hi-jacked? Hi-jacked by the money spinners who exploit our sentimentality to line their own purses? The brightly coloured decorations and carols blaring out of every shop feel hollow and almost aggressive to me. The season of good will becomes a season of give me, give me, give me and take, take, take. Christmas has become one of the most enormous money-making plots of the last century.
And yet we get swept along with it.
We feel like we are missing something vital if we miss out on one detail in our preparations for the perfect Christmas. We are panicked by the advertising campaign at the beginning of December addressed to all those who haven’t yet bought all their Christmas gifts.We are encouraged to get ready earlier and earlier and by December 1st we feel like we are already behind with our Christmas preparations. We feel bullied by all the adverts, posters and even our own perfectionism into believing that nothing must be out of place or forgotten and everything must fit seamlessly with the Christmas theme – linen, dishes, kitchen roll and even toilet roll. How ridiculous we have become. What a burden we have made out of Christmas. Don’t we realise that we are undermining Christmas itself with our emphasis on the frills and thrills of the season? We are robbing ourselves of the very peace which is our gift through the coming of the Prince of Peace.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.” Isaiah 9,6-7
I want to wrestle back the Christmas season both for myself and for my family but this means preparation of a different sort. It means deliberately setting aside time as a family when we gather and turn our minds towards the first “Christmas” and its significance for us. It means choosing to read advent books together when I would rather be relaxing or watching a Christmas film. It means choosing to create and perpetuate family traditions which draw our hearts closer to the true meaning of Christmas and closer to God’s love. It means choosing not to spend more time than necessary in shopping centres. It means choosing self-control instead of indulgence because I, too, am tempted to create the perfect Christmas for my children each year, to find them the “perfect” gift, and to make Christmas magical. I realise that “perfect” Christmases become a trap; the wonder of them becomes harder and harder to produce, and less and less satisfying for us all. It tends to produce expectations and a sense of entitlement instead of anticipation and a sense of wonder.
This advent season I want to choose the beauty of greater simplicity, the truth that less is often more and true kindness sometimes withholds bounty.
Christmas is truly wonder-full when we focus on its true wonders. Its wonders are not the fantastic gifts under the tree, the joviality of office parties and social gatherings, the breathtaking beauty of decorations, theatrical productions, ballets, concerts or exotic holidays. They are less tangible than this but much more real and lasting.
- It’s the wonder of God’s faithfulness to His promise to send us a Messiah.
- It is the wonder of hope born in us because God now dwells among us, Emmanuel.
- It is the wonder of inexpressible joy because Jesus is coming again.
- It is the wonder of love, God’s love come down at Christmas time.
- It is the wonder of God’s glory being born in frailty and laid in a manger, to bring us to glory.
It is no surprise to me that the world we know undergoes such a radical transformation each Christmas time. The ripples of the incarnation are felt throughout the world, whether people acknowledge the reason for the season or not. There is no containing the joy that burst out that very first Christmas. I do not fear nor do I believe that Christmas will one day be completely secularised and yet for our own sake, and for the sake of our children, we must be careful not to lose sight of why we celebrate. When January comes and the tinsel and the paper and all the debris of Christmas are cleared away and we start our new year diets, so that we can fit into next season’s swimwear, we need a tangible hope to hang on to. That is when we need to know that though Christmas comes and goes, Jesus came to stay.
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
We will decorate our tree, watch fun movies, eat good food and give nice gifts but I want it to be the backdrop and not the main feature. I want us to experience the true wonder of meditating on the love of a God who clothed Himself with humanity and entered our world so that we could enter His. I want us to understand that Christmas is more about giving than getting – God gave Himself to us so that we could give ourselves to Him, and to one another.
Let’s enjoy the giving, more than the getting.
By the way, I just hung our Christmas clock on the wall. It plays a Christmas carol on the hour, every hour. Lovely.