There is the story of the divorced parents who try to use Christmas as a way of bringing happiness back into the lives of their children. They buy more gifts than their children could ever hope to play with, but for that one hour, while the paper is flying and the kids are squealing with delight, it is enough. The presents are a band-aid.
There is the story of the ex-convict released from prison a few days before Christmas. He goes to the local shopping mall and, since he doesn’t have any money, steals a few toys for his kids. He puts his parole on the line! He puts his freedom on the line! All because he wants to bring back some normalcy into his family’s life.
There is the story of the mother, irate after discovering the toy she drove thirty minutes to pick up, the toy that was advertised as being on sale, is now out of stock and discontinued. She berates an innocent store attendant and nearly runs over someone in the parking lot. And she can’t see that it’s not the lack of the toy that is making her angry – it’s the fact that the toy represented some sort of small reparation between her and the daughter she could never understand. The daughter she could never quite connect with.
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We sing “Joy to the World” and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” but for many of us the foundation of Christmas is Guilt. We feel bad that we don’t have the relationships we want with our kids or our spouse or our parents. We feel bad that we didn’t send a Christmas card this year or hang the lights on the house or bake cookies. We wish we could make up for that horrendous mistake we made in our past, you know, the one that destroyed everything.
And so, many of us, to cover up that guilt, manipulate Christmas. We use presents and lights and loudness to drown out what we’re really feeling: inadequate, insufficient, and hurting.
It’s no wonder, when Christmas afternoon rolls around and all the presents have been opened and the food has been eaten, that we once again are overwhelmed with feelings of malaise and melancholy. We feel like, yet again, Christmas didn’t quite measure up to what we wanted. And for most of us it never will measure up, because we want it to make everything better.
We want Christmas to cure us. It won’t. No amount of presents or money or food can do that.
But there is a beautiful part of the Advent season that addresses this. At church this week we will light the second candle and commit to waiting for the coming of Christ…who brings forgiveness for our sins.
Forgiveness. Not guilt, but freedom.
Rest in that reality this Advent season. Rest in the peace of a silent night, when everything changed.
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