There is something about Christmas.
For a few, Christmas means nostalgia and cheer as everything around them seeps blessing and fruitfulness. They gather with family to celebrate; a perfect picture on the front of a Christmas card offering thanks to God, as they gather around the Christmas bird. Sopped with the gravy of life, they dig in to enjoy this time, tweeting about how sweet time with family and friends fills not only their bellies, but their hearts as well. In their view, they celebrate "rightly," having a separate birthday cake for Jesus, no idol images such as: elves or Santa are brought into their homes. If they do allow Santa to visit, their children leave notes saying they don't really believe he's the reason for the season, (but thanks for the presents, anyways.) Waking up Christmas morning, they drive to the homeless shelter where the adults serve food and the kids pass around cookies decorated like, gasp! Santa, stockings, and trees, then return home to open the three presents each under the tree. Not because that's all mom and dad could afford, but because the Christ child only got three, so any more would be better than what He was given. (Never mind that just having a roof over their head and a place to lay it is more than Christ ever had, but I digress.) After the children joyfully open their gifts, they spend the day satisfied (feasting in the Lord, NOT being gluttonous) as they sit around pondering how good He is.
To others, Christmas means finding awesome electronics under the tree and full stockings on the chimney, (even though they spent most of the year being naughty) Santa is willing to let the little "sins" slide, isn't he? They spend the day with family they really don't care to see any other time of the year, and feast on the traditional food that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without. Living on the side of the tracks where things aren't so bad, they enjoy the fried, smoked or oven baked bird and eat their fill in dessert. They tweet about football and sit around already addicted their new electronics ignoring all the crazy in-laws. It's Christmas. Peace on earth, good will to men and all that stuff. A day to bring on the cheer, so bring on the heavily spiked Eggnog to help them celebrate (or forget!) And get 'Ole Scrooge sauced up so he'll stop talking about how depressed he feels - being such a downer. Sadness on Christmas is forbidden and therefore must be hidden, lest you bring everyone else down. Times are tough so suck it up that you only have two coats to wear this Christmas instead of four. Things could be a lot worse.
But for some, Christmas means frustration, loneliness and sorrow as most of the themes and traditions surrounding the holiday magnify loss, and the fact that life isn't always magical. Family doesn't look picture perfect like those on the cards in the mail. It looks more faded, scattered, blended. A love one vanishes leaving an empty chair at the table. There is no Tiny Tim to stand and say, "God bless us, everyone" because there is no feasting where famine has occurred. Santa is a "magical" tease; if only they believed hard enough, Christmas magic would swell in their hearts and they too would forget their woes and burst forth into song. But when Christmas is more Bah Humbug! than Deck the Halls, sorry but Joy to the World just isn't the sentiment of their hearts. They resonate with the Grinch as they watch everyone else enjoying what they feel has been taken (or never given in the first place) from them grumbling that all the noise about Christmas - a baby born in a manger, a fat, jolly man coming to bring what is lacking is just - noise, noise, noise. They look upon the hilltops tired of hearing the shouts, "Be of good cheer!" knowing things aren't what they could be. For what is there to cheer about when there's so much sadness in the world? Children die, families split, the ring never comes, the baby never develops, children are chained to beds, slavery still exists, drought destroys crops, hurricanes rip houses apart...
As for me, when I think about the meaning of Christmas, I am more mutt than pure breed. A combination of the three stereotypes above, I believe in and worship Emmanuel, God with us, the baby born to Mary and Joseph. I try to focus more on his coming than on all the tradition and festivity surrounding Christmas, and reflect on his goodness as I watch my children smile and enjoy the lights on the tree. I enjoy the Christmas movies shown during ABC's 25 days of Christmas, leave love notes and small messes of Skittles made by Jared the Jingle Bell Elf. We gather with family and feast on turkey, casseroles and desserts while watching football. My family picture is blended and faded with an empty seat where my mother would sit if she were here. I am filled with sorrow as I miss her, and think about how much she'd love watching my children enjoy the season. I've felt more Bah Humbug! this year that it's all a bunch of noise, and wept knowing there is still suffering and death on Christmas.
I feel it all, and it's all Christmas.
God was born. Why? Because children die, families split, the ring never comes, the baby never develops, children are sold and chained to beds, drought destroys crops and hurricanes rip houses apart. Deep in children's hearts is a knowledge and belief that someone who understands exactly what they desire lives above them in a place beyond what their imaginations can fathom. God's family is messed up, blended, scattered among the nations. Knowing we need to see He empathizes and understands what we face on this earth, he left the place of always good and bright to groan and weep at death, grieve the hardness of our hearts, and suffer as a human wrapped in skin that hungers, thirsts and feels tired. He understands the Grinch in us that looks back knowing how it could have been and where it all went wrong. There are holes in our hearts left by loss, idols that didn't deliver the sack of joy they promised, and the digested feast leaving us hungry again. Only when we believe, can we experience real peace and joy.
Isaiah 53:3-5 "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed."
Sorrow to peace. It's Christmas.