It was the night of Christmas Eve night, my family was asleep, I snuggled up on the couch ready to enjoy a few quiet moments with a cup of cocoa and my tree before heading to bed. I gazed at the twinkling lights and the ornaments which we had finally hung that morning. All was as it should be, and so I sat, waiting to feel the way things looked.
Peace was elusive. After a few minutes my stomach lurched as I thought of the kids, some in the colonia right next door, who would face a Christmas of disappointment, poverty and violence. My mind was racing now and suddenly I was overwhelmed with gratitude. We were safe, with presents under the tree and a stocked pantry. It was so much more than we deserved. My heart pounded and I began wiping tears as I looked at my daughter’s lone stocking, once again a year has gone by without another pregnancy. Now I was frustrated with myself, I had one perfect daughter, healthy and growing. I ached for my friends who were still waiting for their first child and those who had lost a child this year. I went on and on like this, cycling from gratefulness to longing, from joy to misery. Eventually with my head muddled I gave up and went to bed.
As I did I realized that my no matter how hard I tried Christmas would always disappoint me. The jolliness would never be jolly enough to dispel all the sorrow that sneaks in with it. And yet, at the same time, the heartache could not overcome the goodness of it all, the gifts, the friends, the lights, Christmas inevitably brings an undeniable wonder.
And then I recognized this tension. I was staring into the face of Christ.
For much of America Christmas has lost its religious significance. For our economy it has become simply about shopping. Those of us in the church have tried to counteract this with a trend of our own, banishing Santa for being a lie that distracts us and instead telling everyone to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and lately by plastering our cars with stickers that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas”.
It’s as if we have forgotten that God’s Spirit is inescapable. He is in the air. We are formed from the dust that He created and of His own breath. Every delicious morsel we eat at Christmas is fed to us by Him. With eggnog and spiced cider He quenches our thirst. Every carol, every bell ringing, every laughing child and glimmering tree, all that is beautiful proclaims Him. And each hug, every reunion, every gift, it all declares His love. At the same time our loneliness and heartache, our grief which is amplified at Christmas is not lost on Him, we weep and Christ weeps with us. Christ gives an abundant life with both beauty and pain. He gives it so we can give it back to Him.
Life is sacrament. We don’t need bumper stickers to remind us to put Christ back into something He has never left, we don’t need to kick Santa to the curb, we don’t even need perfect moments with our tree. We need Him and that is Christmas, longing hearts waiting for baby to be born and waiting for the savior of the world to come again.