It’s nearly a crime to not be jolly at Christmas, but thus is the plight of many this time of year.
Holiday cheeriness—meant to rouse even the Scroogiest amongst us into some sort of enigmatic once-a-year mood known as “the Christmas spirit”—further indicts those who cannot muster even enough enthusiasm to dig through the garage for the Christmas decorations. Without giving it more than two minutes of thought, I can come up the names of no less than seven friends who, instead of welcoming the season, are dreading its in-your-face “joy.” For them, instead of sugarplums, they have visions of divorce, rebellious children, drug addiction, autoimmune disease, custody battles, and depression dancing through their heads. Sentiment cuts both ways in this most sentimental of seasons. Looking back can bring to mind mixed memories: baking gingerbread with Grandma, yes, perhaps, but also a litany of hurts and regrets, where it’s, as C.S. Lewis put it, “always winter, but never Christmas.”
Writer Graham Greene calls Christmas a “necessary festival” where we mourn the flaws in our relationships and woes of the world, and perhaps this is true. One cannot rejoice in one’s release from prison without first experiencing its tortures, as parents who have made their children weed the garden all morning before releasing them to play at the park know well. Without the gut knowledge of our sin, the Christ Child’s birth is nothing more than a cute tale that gives us an excuse to lubricate our gullets with eggnog. At Christmas, it’s easy—even for those of us who place the Nativity set front and center on the mantle—to forget how things shake out in the Christmas story. We stay stuck fraternizing with the Ghost of Christmas Past even when everyone else has left the party and gone to bed.
We forget that, like Frederick Buechner puts it, “For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning—not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.”
I’m not sure about you, but I read a good measure of hope in that statement, even if conjuring up Christmas cheer is at times as difficult as conjuring up enthusiasm for an impending New Year’s 30-day juice cleanse.