Monday, December 14, 2009

It's just Christmas

As usual I am contemplating what I preached yesterday and how it may have adversely affected some. I know there are the more mature Christians who can take it, but there are many who are struggling on one level or another and could be pushed one way or the other. And the struggle is often intensified during the Advent season when so many are running in too many different directions, young families struggling to have enough money to buy a lot of crap they don’t need for children who could not possibly appreciate it but will, instead, come to expect it.

All this came crashing down on me the other day as I was watching the US Senate on TV debating the health care bill. One senator called into question the “sustainability” of such massive government spending. Not trying to go off on a political diatribe but as I was listening to what he was saying, it occurred to me that where we are now in this economy and in this country and in this Christmas is “unsustainable”. That is to say, sooner or later limits will be hit; maybe we’ve already hit them. There is only so much money in the entire world without printing a lot of worthless paper, the government can only take so much from American taxpayers without actually cutting into bone and muscle (and they may already be doing so!), and parents can only spend so much on children and grandchildren before a limit is finally reached.

Back when I was growing up, my parents struggled often to make ends meet. At Christmas, though, you would have thought my parents had all the money in the world. My siblings and I got just about everything our little hearts could possibly desire – and yes, I was glad to get it but there was no way I could honestly appreciate any of it because it came to me without cost on my part. It was only years later when I would come to find out my parents likely took several months to pay off the credit card debt incurred from such a lavish Christmas. And each Christmas we expected more of the same. We would look through the giant JCPenney catalogue with eager anticipation AND expectation!

Fast forward a few years later when my wife and I had children and began our own tradition, borrowing from a tradition we once knew as children. We had been conditioned for Christmas to be a certain way, so we continued this lavish and very expensive Christmas. And like me, our children came to expect such extravagance each and every Christmas. Until one Christmas it was just no longer possible. So what happens? Christmas, as it is, is never the same. Someone always feels cheated or disappointed, and the spirit of Christmas is diminished.

And here is the thing. It cannot be that way. There is no such thing as a “bad” Christmas or a “good” Christmas because even though we define such by how much money we have to spend and how many presents are under the tree, it is still Christmas, the Christ Mass, the celebration of the birth of Messiah! How can this be “bad” on any level, and how can man possibly improve on that? Even with the best of intentions, Christians have become the ones who have removed “Christ” from Christmas. Watching us go at it, you might as well rename the holiday “Walmart-mas”. Or “Sears-mas”. Or “K-Mart-mas”. Know what I mean? It’s not the pagans or the agnostics or the atheists or the godless, pinko, liberals who are ruining Christmas … it is the CHRISTIANS who should know better who are ruining Christmas!

What is sadder still is that I get it, but I feel horrible every single year because of what I have allowed this Holy season, this Holy Day, to become to me and my family. Makes it very hard to preach and even harder still to be upbeat. It’s Christmas, a Holy Day in celebration of that incredible moment in human history when the Lord came to us in the flesh, in a way we could comprehend. The story of our rejection, of course, comes much later.

It’s just Christmas, and it’s all good all on its own merit. It is a Holy Day. You and I cannot make it better nor can we, thank God, make it worse except, of course, for ourselves and those we love by losing sight of what really matters. And whether one is in Baghdad, Kabul, or Magnolia, it will still be Christmas. And the Promise that came to all of mankind is the same Promise which today.

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