Each year, as if only emerging on our planet recently, I am stumped as conversation kindling logs are laid before me, “So, are you ready for Christmas?”
I promise I realize about social customs. I know the query is weather-talk... a version of “Whew, I can’t believe how toasty it is in the first week of December!’; a more elaborate “how’s it going?” Small talk is a mighty important feature of our connected lives together.
So I shrug and chuckle....”Uh...no” Then the barber or the check-out lady at the Walgreens and I both shake our heads knowingly.
Relieved to relearn that misery does adore companionship.
I wish I had a more clever response.
I wish we didn’t have to ask each other the question.
The Emergency of Boot Season?
I wish I hadn’t recently heard my email ding with an email from Zappos, alerting me to the not at all apparent reality that “it’s beginning to look a lot like boot season!” Nothing against Zappos. In fact, they’re the cheery Chik-fil-A of shoe brokering in my view. Their’s was just the latest communique I got reminding me of the emergency we are all in.
Hibbettt’s, Target, Land’s End, Wal-Mart, Old Navy, Southern Marsh, Altra Running, Duluth Trading...it’s easy to nervously conclude all my friends must be vendors and neither they, nor the social world I inhabit is going to like me anymore unless I go on a furious purchasing rampage.
They are the background noise blaring, “You’ve only got a month left to purchase all your hopes, make the only memories that matter, and to recapture (or to create like never before) the nostalgic warmth, coziness, and exuberant fullness that is caringly depicted in each new Lexus commercial.”
So on this Tuesday, as Advent is but a few days old, I wanted to propose a counter-measure below that I don’t fully expect to be heeded...but it’s a season of hope, right?
So I’ll lob it out there any way as a sanity producing measure. For Christians, what CS Lewis called “the commercial racket” of Christmas (some 60 years ago!), can be stiff-armed a bit. Or at least should be.
This is the season, after all, when we plead in song for Christ to “disperse the gloomy clouds of night.” We rehearse the marvel of his first arrival in our skin to “burn as “The Heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame” (Gerard Manley Hopkins) and we stand on tiptoe, to peer over the horizon for his next appearance when “death’s dark shadows” will undeniably and conclusively be “put to flight.”
Such a season shouldn’t make us miserable. Should it?
“Our Lunatic Condition”
“It’s Christmas Clark, we’re all in misery” sympathized Beverly D’Angelo to Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation as she nervously fumbled to re-start a habit of cigarette smoking.
CS Lewis would have agreed:
“We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things.”
And I agree with his resigned confusion...
”I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I'd sooner give them money for nothing and write if off as a charity.”
He was convinced that part of the madness of our time is that our practice of the commercial parts of Christmas had come “to produce more pain than pleasure” and was largely “involuntary.” Gift-giving, which in and of itself is a lovely thing, can become (and again this was 60 years ago!) become a polite form of blackmail. Here’s more:
“It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to 'keep' it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out -- physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.“
Going Against the Stream with 3 Petitions
His British contemporary for some of his life, GK Chesterton, aptly reminded in a different circumstance, “a dead thing can go against the stream but only a living thing can go against it.”
I wonder if it might be possible to demonstrate we are living things by praying against the stream during this alluring AND aggravating season?
I’ve composed three possible petitions that might just do the trick:
The Reorient our Posture Petition:
Lord Jesus, show me ways where I may, in cooperation with you, bring solace, comfort, and cheer during this frantic season, especially to those most lonely, distressed, and over-wrought.
The Save Others From Us Petition:
Lord Jesus, prohibit me from adding to the insurmountable pressure (and “the lunatic condition in our country”) so many around me feel by my demands that Christmas be realized in precisely the way I hope. (whether you want way less of Christmas and or way more of it!---either way can create its burdens instead of lifting them.)
The Vision Corrector Petition:
Lord Jesus, “blink our eyes wide open” so WE (everyone around me and me as well) may capture AND depict “a thrill of hope” so “the weary world rejoices” in surprising and joy-producing ways that don’t have a thing to do with what we can get through Amazon prime---but might, since we have to participate in such in some ways.
Such Godward queries may cause a more robust consideration of what we are doing, an unveiling of what we are expecting, and a focusing spotlight upon the One who can bear the weight of our fiercest Christmas longings.
When we do, we might just unearth an oft-refused whisper...an insistent but easily ignored invitation from the heavens.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer heard its summons....even to the deficient:
“We simply have to wait and wait....The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
We should take solace in our congregations throughout Advent, “troubled in soul” and “poor and imperfect” we know ourselves to be, not first from cyber-deals on electronics, but from a pondering of the parts of our faith we won’t hear about from preachers on tv or from those engaged in intense political flirtations.
It turns out, that Christians in between Christ’s two comings are odd birds.
And we groan.
We expect magnificence from “God-with-us.”
And we sigh with the mundane absences we can’t shake.
We dance and grin with giddy delight for a renewal that stretches cosmically “far as the curse is found.”
And yet we grimace as we puncture our foot on the lingering thorns that “still infest the ground.”
But good news--well, that is, if we are paying attention. For as our carols assure:
“He knows our need. To our weakness, no stranger!” (O Holy Night)
AW Tozer once adeptly observed, "Christ came to bring peace and we celebrate his coming by making peace impossible for six weeks of each year..."
But if we refuse to construe ourselves as frantic consumers, and instead identify as partners in waiting who happen to be troubled in soul yet determined in waiting for an earth-renewing Savior to come in all his savory splendor, we might just make a bit of peace possible for others, and for ourselves.
There’s nothing more reassuring than being well-governed and amply regarded, and Advent insists that we discover both in the sympathetic Kingship of Christ before whom the best emergency message of Advent turns out to be:
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!”
Nourished by the sturdy concrete-footer expectation of his healing, help, and invincible zeal to make all things new, we could just find we are “ready for Christmas” at last.
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at email@example.com