Summary: Is your Christmas turning out to be less than ideal? So was the first one. Rejoice anyway!
The Christmas season is a time of celebration, a time of rejoicing. As the song tells us, "It’s the most wonderful time of the year!" And there are dozens more where that came from, Christmas songs exhorting us to rejoice and be of good cheer; songs like "Good Christian Men, Rejoice!" and, "We Wish You A Merry Christmas!" and, "Joy To The World!"
This message, that you should be happy, and glad, and cheerful, is everywhere. You can’t escape it. When you visit the mall, you hear Bing Crosby’s voice coming out of the walls and the ceilings. When you’re out in the car, you see lawn displays with smiling snowmen, and waving Santas, and flying reindeer. When you turn on the television, you find every channel full of warm-hearted Christmas shows, like "It’s a Wonderful Life;" or "Christmas with the Muppets".
It can all be a bit oppressive, especially if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to have your emotions programmed by someone else, or force-fed to you by the media. If you’re the kind of person who likes to decide for yourself if you’re going to be merry, then Christmas can be kind of a drag. Because when the culture collectively decides that now is the time for everybody to be cheerful, darn it, then it seems you only have two choices. You either get with the program; be a good sport and play along. Or you become an old sourpuss, say Bah, humbug! to the whole thing, and hunker down until the season passes.
Now, it’s certainly true that many people genuinely enjoy Christmas, without any hint of irony or cynicism. Their Christmas cheer isn’t artificial. They like the music, and the decorations, and the cards, and the cookies. They enjoy hearing people say, "Merry Christmas!" For them, Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. But for others, Christmas is a difficult time. Perhaps they’re struggling financially, and can’t buy thier children the presents they want. Or they don’t look forward to being with their family. Or perhaps it’s just that life hasn’t given them a lot to be cheerful about lately. And that contrast, between what they’re being told they ought to feel, and what they actually do feel, makes them even more depressed.
Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. You enjoy Christmas, but even so, it’s a stressful time of the year. Your joy is mingled with anxiety, as you negotiate with your spouse whose family you’re going to spend Christmas with, and you go from store to store, searching for just the right gift for each person on your list, worrying about how you’re going to pay for it all. And you’re trying to get the Christmas cards addressed and sent out before New Year’s, and you’re making eight dozen sugar cookies for the school bake sale, and you’re helping the kids memorize their lines for the Christmas play – and in the midst of it all, you’re doing your best to remember the "true meaning of Christmas". Wondering if this is what Christmas should really be like. Wondering if perhaps something has gone wrong somewhere, if perhaps simple joy of the season has gotten lost.
Shouldn’t we be able to focus on the real meaning of Christmas – the babe in the manger, and the angels, and the shepherds, and the wise men, and the star, without all this other "junk"? Shouldn’t we be able to rejoice in the birth of Christ without all the shopping, and the work, and the expense, and the stress? Like Mary and Joseph did. And the shepherds. And the wise men. Go back to a simpler, purer time?
Well, I’ve got news for you. That kind of Christmas never existed. And God never intended that it should. In other words, the kind of Christmas we’ve got – flawed, stressful, with joy and sadness combined, with hope and fear all mixed together – this is what Christmas is all about. It’s what Christmas has been about since the very beginning. And in fact, this is what life is about, and will be about until Christ returns. Because the kind of purity, and simplicity, and joy we long for, without any sin, or sorrow, or suffering, is not for this world. That’s for the world to come. What we have now, and what God intends for us to rejoice in the midst of, is imperfection. Peace and stress mingled together. Work and rest. Joy and sorrow. Confidence and confusion. But we don’t have to let the imperfections of the Christmas season to keep us from genuinely enjoying it. We shouldn’t allow sadness and suffering to keep us from genuinely rejoicing in Christ our Savior, at every season of the year.
That’s my thesis. Now let me try to defend it. Because I’m sure some of you are a bit skeptical. It’s customary at this time of year to complain about all the things that are wrong with Christmas; to express longing for an ideal Christmas that’s pure, and simple, and undefiled. But I’m saying the opposite. I’m saying we shouldn’t expect that, and we don’t need that in order to rejoice. I’m saying that Christmas is like life – messy and untidy; with good and bad mixed together. That’s the way Christmas has always been. That’s the way life has always been, and always will be until Christ returns. But in spite of that, we can still worship, and be glad, and give thanks. We don’t have to let imperfection rob us of our joy and peace.