I just plugged in the Christmas tree…not too many days left for that, as we will probably take it down this weekend. It’s really hard to believe that Christmas wasn’t even a week ago, it feels like months already. I was thinking this year that I don’t really love Christmas day at all…I’m much more partial to the Christmas season as a whole, but Christmas day feels kind of like a let down because it’s all over, all that build up and then…done.
It got me to thinking about just what I love about the season, and I think it’s the magic and the mystery of it all. The lights, the anticipation, the excitement of gifts to give, the music. As a Christian, the birth of Jesus is a central focus during this time of year, and even though my faith has changed dramatically, I can say honestly that during the Christmas season is when Jesus feels the most real to me. The story of the Nativity is so odd. Such a strange idea, that God would come to earth as a baby. But there’s such an other-worldly, magical quality to the Nativity story…the carols, even, in their minor keys, using archaic, slightly incomprehensible language. It’s like the one time of the year that we acknowledge that, yeah, this whole Jesus the Messiah born in a Manger thing is kind of weird sounding, but that we’re all ok with that. Even people who don’t claim to follow him will be caught singing about Jesus come to save the world…it trips me out to see some of the Christmas music put out by random secular artists. Singing about our sin and savior when you’re pretty sure they’re just looking to sell some records, not worship any one god in particular.
I grew up Catholic and I have to say I think they did a way better job of capturing the magic of the season. Those midnight masses, with the live Nativity at the front of the church. All the candles and the incense. You’re sleepy and tired and everything seems kind of dream-like. Evangelical church services are pretty cut and dry, even at Christmas. The advent wreath is kind of an afterthought. The church we attend on occasion does a nice finale where we all sing Silent Night with candles and it’s beautiful but otherwise there’s not much magic there. I was thinking this week about how we used to actually (sometimes) go to church on Christmas…which seems like a foreign concept anymore. I’m not saying I want to go to church on Christmas morning, but I wonder if maybe it shouldn’t be an option more than it is?? I don’t know.
I think most people want magic and mystery in our lives…that’s why Harry Potter and Narnia and Tolkein and stories like that capture our imagination. We want something to believe in that is extraordinary, beyond what we can see. I think Christmas could capture that for Christians…most of the time Christians have killed the magic and mystery of the faith. Everything’s been boiled down to a list of rules, a political ideology, a “Merry Christmas” and not a “Happy Holidays”, a who’s in and who’s out, us against them, we have the truth and you don’t, believe this or go to hell death cycle that apparently some people get off on but not me. And I’m guessing not a lot of people, if anyone’s really listening to people out there.
I was driving to the airport Christmas night, listening to my Christmas CD…the day was over, the season mostly over…but the stars were twinkling and I could almost see that little stable, with angels and shepherds and the magi somewhere far away noticing an unusual astronomical event…I could still feel the magic. I’m hoping that this year I can let that feeling, that mystery, be my guide in my faith and I can ignore all the people out there who want to stomp all that out in the name of some cold, practical faith.
Peace on earth…goodwill to men.