(76) the thing about Christmas

The thing is this: I just don’t feel ready for Christmas. I’m unprepared.

I’m listening to the music and everything. I’ve been to a couple Christmassy concerts. I’ve walked in the snow and marveled at the lights. I’ve even been participating in the Nativity fast as a means of preparing.

And yet…

Only very recently did I realize that Christmas actually wasn’t 3 weeks away anymore, but rather next week. In my mind it had been 3 weeks out for a while and I guess I expected it would somehow continue to be 3 weeks out forever and ever amen. Not so however. Which led to a small fantasy world (the fantasy world in which Christmas was perpetually at a distance) breakdown. Because I’m unprepared. Christmas cards hadn’t been written. Gifts haven’t been collected and wrapped and mailed. Baking hasn’t been done.

Then I went into philosophical freaking-out over-analyzing mode (oh-so-difficult to imagine me plunging into this, I know), because one of the Big Problems is that I don’t actually know why we buy all these gifts. Part of me felt anxiously compelled to rush out (or online) and quickly buy and mail! But the louder part was just confused. Remind me again, what exactly is the point here?

I realized that I know what I want the gift to communicate. I want it to say to the recipient: I love you, I’ve been thinking of you, even praying for you all year, then I saw this goofy little thingy-bop and it made me chuckle and I hope you’ll at least smile, maybe not because the gift is all that great, but because now you know for sure that I was thinking of you.

All of that in a silly little gadget that they might not even need. All of that somehow communicated unspoken in a thing – just how plausible is that really?

My motives are cloudy. The cultural tradition of gift-giving is muddied with materialism. And I live in a peculiar situation among the majority of the world in that most of the people I would give to don’t actually need anything, not really. Which makes it all seem kind of empty. And at this point, it seems too late anyway. I’m just letting it go for now. I’ll try to explain my conundrum in person to the affected parties. I anticipate that everyone will let me off the hook this year, excuse what feels like a moderately messy failure to me. Maybe if I just plan ahead, if I started thinking about this in July next year…(although this is ironic, since I have actually been thinking about this Christmas gift conundrum for a couple months at least, but took no action because I apparently was in denial that Christmas would tangibly come).

I am actually stuck at this point in the story right now. I’m writing this from the middle of it, not at the end when I can sum everything up in a brilliant one-liner. But here are a few things I’m gleaning today:

I think the so-called Christmas spirit might be more of a way of living to practice (one of generosity, compassion and unconditional love), rather than a transient wave of emotions. Which means that I can practice living the Christmas-way anytime. And this also means that it is fully unsurprising if it is, in fact, difficult to practice this Christmas living. It seems that all good practices are difficult along the way.

And I was reminded of two iconic Christmas figures as I sort-of trudged home from the store tonight, wrapped up in angst about all this:  Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch. Both stories are about someone missing the point of Christmas and then coming to his senses and finding joy. I do not enjoy being challenged to embrace joy when I’m in the middle of a good sulk. Sometimes, I’m sorry to say, I enjoy sitting down in my distress. But do I really want to join the ranks of those missing the point? Maybe all I need sometimes is to step out of my distress, throw my energy into loving and expect to see the big reality of God bursting the seams into my mundaneness.

Which brings me to this last thing, a quote that our pastor sent out tonight that is somewhat overwhelming, yet also makes all my words and worries seem small in the shadow of what is Really Going On Here in Christmas:

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him…

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.”

– St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”

Come, let us observe the Feast.

Yes. Let’s do that.


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