Summary: Christmas is a time for full hearts: weary, guilty, anxious, sad -- past, present, and future. Mary felt the same things, but Christ comes to forgive our past, empower our present, and assure our future.
Christmas is an emotional time. All kinds of feelings are involved with the celebration of Christmas. If you don’t feel some tension, some excitement, or some pressure, something at this time of the year, you are either dead or you’ve been watching the Redskins, which is about the same thing.
Christmas is an emotional time. There are lots of feelings. Some folks actually dread the Christmas season, so many and so hurtful are the feelings.
Some, for example, feel ragged; some feel worn out. You’ve fought the crowds in the stores, you’ve stood in line forever for the privilege of handing over your hard-earned to an overworked clerk, who snarls, "Have a happy holiday." You’re tired, but so is the clerk. You’ve staggered to the Post Office with bundles they made you re-wrap, because you didn’t get them secure enough, only to be told they couldn’t guarantee arrival before Christmas. You’re worn out, but so are the postal workers. You’ve spent days in the kitchen, baking everything imaginable, most of which your drooling husband will never taste, because it’s for gifts, and neither will you, because, once it’s done, you’re too tired to eat. You feel ragged, weary. Christmas is an emotional time.
And for some, one dimension of that weariness is a lot of guilty feelings about the past. Somehow at Christmas all our past mistakes catch up with us. All the unresolved conflicts in our lives get out on the table at this time of the year. That family member you don’t speak to. That friend you’ve been avoiding. That weak moment, when you gave in and cheated. It all becomes very real, and very wearisome, very guilty, at Christmas. The heart fills up.
Some feel worn out, but then others feel anxious. Anxious as to whether we are going to live up to the demands of the moment. Anxious as to whether we can handle what is expected of us.
Some feel victimized by the expectations Christmas brings. Hammered by advertising, driven by the clamors of our children, pushed by something deep down inside that tells us that love is something you can buy, we hurry like lemmings to the stores. We present our plastic, dutifully stimulating the national economy and at the same time depleting our own bank accounts. And all the preaching that we do about not commercializing Christmas doesn’t do one blessed thing to keep many of us from feeling anxious if we do not participate in this most American of holiday rituals. You know the theme song I used during the Advent season? It would make a great company anthem for Bloomingdale’s or for the computer store, "What a friend we have in Jesus"! The merchants have succeeded in making us feel inadequate if we do not spend, spend, spend! Christmas is an emotional time, an anxious time for people who don’t feel adequate. The heart fills up.
Some feel worn out, some feel anxious, and then still others feel a deepening sadness. Christmas is a tough time for any number of people. I am not sure how many of you have stopped to identify this feeling in yourselves, but I know I have felt it and continue to feel it. There is that quiet sadness as we remember the things that were and that can never be again, those who are no longer seated at our tables, those whose faces we think for a moment we see in the flickering flames of the fireplace.
My mother died at Christmas, three years ago; my father-in-law, at Christmas, four years ago. And how many good friends, members of this church, are not here for this Christmas. The heart, I tell you, fills up!
But most of all, there is that weighty sadness to know that we are aging, that we are no longer children, that a good deal of the innocence of yesterday is gone, and that in its place is some cynicism, some hard-boiled crustiness. I feel sorry that I am not as trusting as I used to be; I feel disappointed that I am not as optimistic about people as I once was; most of all, I am not as full of beans about my own powers any more. I am not so sure that during my lifetime I will solve every problem, learn every skill, and vanquish every foe. It struck me just the other day that, come August, I will have been pastor here for ten years, and that, given the normal retirement age of 65, I’m already more than half finished with my tenure. And yet I am not half finished with what I feel called to do. I’ve only just begun. Where does the time go? And how will it all ever be done? Maybe it won’t. That hurts. That fills the heart.