As I wrote yesterday about this time between the last Sunday of Advent and the coming Christmas morning, this time we spend between the "already" and the "not yet," I was struck by how much of this season sounds almost like Christmas.
Because we talk about groaning with labor pains, and it could be about a little Christ child about to be born. Or it could be about all the labor that goes into making "Christmas" happen - hauling a tree, setting up a tree, decorating a tree, shopping for presents, wrapping the presents, stacking the presents around the tree, baking cookies, baking cakes, carving the ham, frying the bacon, mixing the waffles.... Yes, certainly, Christmas is a time for labor pains. Where's the ibuprofen?
Because we talk about anticipation and hopeful waiting, and it could be about a Promise that's coming true before our very eyes. Or it could be about a wish list a mile long, about quiet prayers whispered in the name of Santa Claus, about figuring out what's in all those packages under the tree, about not being able to wait much longer to play with....you fill in the blank.
For those of us a little bit older who aren't dreaming of dolls and racecars and the latest this or the coolest that, the anticipation is not so much about presents, but about presence. It's about having all of our loved ones together under one roof, if even for just a short while. It's about having two, three, four, five generations all gathered around one breakfast table. It's about sharing one more Christmas together while at the same time, seeing some of our very traditions passed down to the next generation. Seeing a whole new set of kids, grandkids, great-grandkids getting into the joy of Christmas morning. it's about seeing our families, for one morning, together.
Oh, so close.
It's because we're talking about a star that lights the way but not bothering any more to look up at the night sky; the only star we need is the one on top of the Christmas tree. When we see it twinkling, we know someone's up and Santa has been here.
It's because we're talking about gifts, but we're not talking about meaningful, valuable, intimately prophetic gifts like gold, frankincense, and myrrh; we're talking about gizmos and gadgets, toys and games, some assembly required, batteries not included fads that are going to be played with for about three hours, packed into a crowded car, taken home, and promptly forgotten, broken, or misplaced.
It's because we're not talking about a certain special little boy, born in a manger on a quiet night. No, we're talking about our certain special little boys and girls, who have no concept of what "quiet" even means. Which brings us back to the ibuprofen...and all the pains of putting Christmas together.
When we talk about our Christmas stories, they're often oh so close. They have all the right things...but about all the wrong things. And anyone watching might be forgiven for thinking that Christmas is all about us.
It's not that our Christmas stories are bad. There's something beautiful about spending this sacred time with our loved ones, gathered together, sharing stories, making memories. But let us not forget that even our best Christmas stories are no match for the original.