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Keeping Merry in Christmas

Erma Bombeck once wrote an article entitled “The Lost Christmas.” It began like this: “There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child…”

Do you remember experiencing the wonder and magic of Christmas when you were a child? Do you remember hardly being able to sleep the night before because you couldn’t wait for Santa to come? Do you remember waking up early and sneaking downstairs to the magic of a glittering tree surrounded by gifts, looking to see which ones had your name on them, maybe even gently shaking them to see what was in there? Do you remember the frustration of waiting for your parents wake up and get a cup of coffee before present opening could begin? Do you remember a magical Christmas Eve service?

I think many of us had these types of experiences, but somewhere along the line Christmas changed. Even if we try really hard to keep the magic, mystery and holiness in it, it’s different. And some years are harder than others. Some years we're desperately missing loved ones we've lost, not even just recently, but maybe even long ago. As our kids grow up, holidays just become more complicated and it's hard when the whole family can't be together. Some of us dread the family obligations knowing they may be fraught with tension for one reason or another. And some years we can be side-swiped by illness, job loss, accidents or all kinds of crazy things life throws at us.

As my kids grow up, I find myself lamenting with them that adulting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

And, sometimes “Merry” Christmas sticks in our throats. What’s so merry about it, we wonder? At our most cynical we complain that it has become just a bunch of consumeristic hype. In our Scroogiest moments we want to call out “Bah humbug!” and crawl back under the blankets, licking our wounds alone. The more miserable we are, the less we want anything to do with a “merry” Christmas because we don’t feel merry. I know some years it is tempting to not put up a tree, or decorations, or come to worship.

Ironically, the less merry we feel, the more Merry Christmas truly applies to us.

The birth narratives of Jesus were not written for a people living in a just and peaceful world where everyone was happy, sheltered and well fed. They were written in the ninth decade to bring hope to a people who had just suffered through another war with Rome, and had not only violently lost loved ones, but also lost their spiritual underpinning in the destruction of the Temple. These narratives were written for a people struggling under an oppressive empire, who were looked askance at by their own Jewish friends and family because they were following that weird Jesus movement, and many of them were likely poor, beaten down, exhausted, lacking hope and needing light in the darkness.

The birth stories of Jesus, which would only centuries later be dated to December 25 and called Christmas, were stories of radical hope. A child was born in the darkness, to a poor mother and father, with a king who wanted the baby dead, but that child survived and became a light for a broken and hurting world. A light of compassion, justice, joy, hope and love for every person. Hence, it is no surprise that his birth was placed on the longest, darkest night of the year. How beautifully metaphorical for all of the long, dark nights we experience in our lives, and how desperately we need that light and hope.

Merry Christmas is about not giving in to the dark void of despair. Merry Christmas is about a deep joy that exists in the midst of the darkness. It sits with us, holding us, comforting us, strengthening us with the knowledge that no matter how dark the night, the day will come again. No matter what you are going through in life right now, Merry Christmas is for you.

Love & Light!