I've had a love/hate relationship with Christmas since becoming an "adult" (I'm not sure why I still insist on using quotations with that word). I get really fed up with the materialism. Stressed out by the hype. And worn down by expectations. It's really, really, difficult for me to celebrate "the reason for the season" (and boy do I hate that line). Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas trees. And the lights! I love gift-giving. I LOVE eggnog, and almost all seasonal foods (except fruit cake- eghk!). I even like Christmas music. And mostly I love family. It's just all the rest of that crap is so much louder, so much more in your face, screaming at you like a freckled-faced, attention-starved child with anger issues, "LOOK AT ME! ME! ME! ME!"
One fateful year in college, I decided to take a road trip with some friends for Christmas instead of going home. I got a lot of flack and empty threats out of desperate anger from my parents, and shrugs with "you rebellious teen you" looks from siblings. But I didn't care. It had been a really rough semester for me and my friends. We needed to break free of our out-grown christmas sweaters and childish gifts, cut-loose from all things complicated (*cough* family *cough*). I was convinced that this would be the year I would finally understand the true meaning of Christmas. We were going to see places. Meet people. And best of all, we were going to serve at a soup kitchen on Christmas day. Details not important. This was going to happen. No gifts for us (we were selfless like that). Just service and the true Christmas spirit.
Well, we saw places. We met people. It was really exciting and fun and we have some really great memories. We didn't, however, serve at a soup kitchen. Turns out "that place" we heard of? Moved. Or something. It wasn't there, and we didn't have a plan B. Christmas came, we watched TV, sat around. It was actually pretty depressing. There were no parents around to force us to sing carols, or cook us food (we did eat some delicious bagels though, those things were good). In the end, I think we all just wanted to go home. Money was running out (well, technically mine ran out like the second day of the trip... but my friends were nice) so we packed the car and headed south again. I think we were all pretty happy when our families celebrated mini-christmases once we got home. I know I was.
I guess the main problem was that even though we stripped ourselves of the materialism of Christmas, we failed to make up for it. I didn't magically focus on "the true blahblahblah..." just because there were no presents or fancy food or annoying carolers.
I have completely lost wherever I was even going with this... I have been up since 3:30 this morning and I think it's hitting me now. I have just been so stressed. About a lot of things. Things that threaten to steal my Christmas from me. But then I can't stop thinking about my brothers and sisters in China, many of whom are celebrating Christmas in prison. Because they chose to celebrate Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas. That sounds so much more cliche than I would ever want it to. There are no words to describe what I feel for them. Reverence. Respect. Awe. Love. Those don't come close. I don't even feel I am worthy to call them my brothers and sisters. I want to learn from them.
Each year I try my best to balance it out. I haven't even gotten close to mastering it yet. We are a young family, we're still figuring out our own traditions. But I am convinced one day I will master it. One day Christmas will be everything it was meant to be, and I won't stress about what to get who, and where and when to spend what with who, and cookies will be baked, and ornaments and gifts will be made in good time (because in that world I am Martha Stewart). This will happen. And it will be good.
Or maybe it won't. And that will be ok. Because Christ was born. He came and made himself lowly, like me. His family didn't have it together. They didn't even have a sanitary place for their new born (who just so happened to be GOD incarnate). And that was just the beginning.
May the meaning of the birth of God's son resonate in your singing, feasting, and gifting. Merry Christmas.