Beginning to look like Christmas

Regular readers of my blog already know that I’m not into the post-thanksgiving shopping frenzy that carries the name “Christmas,” but bears little resemblance to the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus. I have a deep appreciation for Advent and am in no hurry to rush to Christmas. And when Christmas does come, I like to hang onto the season rather than dropping the celebration after a single day.

There is something that seems a bit strange to me about living in a neighborhood where the majority of the houses are covered with lights and the lawns are filled with inflatable figures of snowmen and Santa Claus but I haven’t even had a single conversation with the majority of the people who live on my street. Nights in this corner of the world are filled with bright lights and impressive displays. The days are kind of comical with lawns littered with deflated figures like a kind of strange landscape of plastic waste. The wind of the past few days hasn’t been kind to all of the decorations and we’re looking a bit bedraggled before the second Sunday of Advent has even arrived.

It seems likely that some of my neighbors think that ours is the home of a “Grinch” who doesn’t like Christmas because we haven’t decorated with outdoor lights and we haven’t headed to the hills to get our Christmas tree yet. The Christmas tree in the front window is our most prominent decoration most years, but I’m not in too big of a rush to cut a tree. And when Christmas arrives, I won’t be taking down my tree as early as my neighbors, either.

One preparation for the day of Christmas that has entered my mind is a bit of thought about selecting gifts for grandchildren. Since they live a ways away, we will send the gifts early so they can be coordinated with their family’s holiday traditions. And i’m thinking of Christmas decorations this week because tomorrow our daughter and son-in-law are flying to the city where our son and his family live and they’ll be doing a bit of early celebrating by all going together to get a Christmas Tree on Friday. I admit that I would love to be a part of that adventure.

Mostly, however, I find many of the trappings of secular society’s Christmas observances to be a bit distracting. I’m glad that there are volunteers raising money for charities this time of year, but I hope that people understand that the need for food goes on all year around. Sustaining those who are impoverished requires more than a big meal on Thanksgiving and a gift basket for Christmas. I’ve no doubt that the Salvation Army invests the funds raised in good projects, but putting a few coins in a red kettle does little to inspire year-round generosity and thinking that our community can fund essential services with spare change doesn’t really help us to understand our deep social problems. And it is a good thing that I’m mostly quiet about my thoughts regarding a group that calls itself a church and yet stands at the door to the grocery store asking others to pay for its mission projects. The congregation where I make my biggest donations has been serving this community for much longer than that group and we never beg others to fund our ministries. And we certainly don’t ask others to volunteer to beg for us. Fortunately the volunteers are more big-hearted and generous than I and outside of this particular rant, I’m mostly quiet on the subject.

What I do know is that more than the outward signs of celebration, I need an inward change during the season of Advent. I need to look once again at my own preparations to receive Christ into my life and into our community. I need to read the prophets and be inspired by their visions of peace and hope. I need to sort through my priorities and shed some of the excesses in my lifestyle. I need to listen and visit with the most vulnerable in my community and forge relationships that are transformational rather than paternal.

That serious soul searching takes more effort than a trip to the nearest big box retail store.

At its core, Christmas is the declaration and celebration of an audacious and radical theological concept that is fairly hard to understand. God is so invested in relationship with people that God became human - fully human - with heart and hands and voice and a nervous system that was capable of feeling pain. God experienced real human hunger. Despite the idealized carol that refers to “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” God became a human baby, vulnerable, fragile, in need of care and regular changes of diapers, dependent upon his mother for the food to sustain his life. I’m thinking that the real baby really cried on occasion. I hope so, soothing tears is one of the ways parents bond with their children and God entered human form for the fullness of the experience. Rather than declare that Jesus came to save me, I affirm that God comes to us so intimately that every human experience from birth through death is an opportunity to move closer to God. There is nothing in life or death that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. I didn’t make that up - it is holy scripture for those of us who believe.

So I pray that my neighbors will show their usual patience with me and understand that I’m not unaware of the season of the year. It just takes time to take it all in and genuine changes of heart and mind don’t come quickly or easily. I don’t dislike the decorations of my neighbors. I’m not opposed to their displays of light. But I’m not likely to join in with all of the trappings of the season.

I hope that Christmas will be more of an expression on the inside than a show on the outside.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!