As a kid, I barely understood the sorts of things about Christmas that I wrote about yesterday - all the work that goes into making Christmas happen, all the anticipation, all the traditions, all the stories that are shared around the Christmas tree. I vaguely understood that either Santa came or he didn't (and that, in fact, he always did, no matter how good or bad I had actually been during any given year). But much of the stress of this season was wholly lost on me.
That's not so much the case the older I get.
The more I invest my time and energy into making Christmas happen - finding or creating the perfect gifts, setting up and decorating the Christmas tree, making sure there are batteries in the little nativity scene, baking Christmas cookies for my brothers and their kids, wrapping presents, filling stockings, waking up early in the morning to fry bacon and make waffles, positioning the video camera just right, walking repeatedly in front of it so that my backside inadvertently becomes the star of the show, running out to the store for the last-minute this and the oops-I-forgot that....the more I understand just how easy it is to get lost in Christmas.
Or worse yet, to lose Christmas itself.
It's certifiably a mess. It really is. It's scraps of paper here and flour on the floor there and a house that can never be vacuumed enough and kids fighting over who got more green-wrapped Kisses in their stocking when they wanted more red ones (I got to great lengths to make sure all the kids get exactly the same candy in their stockings, right down to the wrappers, because I have been through this one too many times) and brothers ribbing each other and relatives arguing and a few good fights breaking out. Add to that any weather that might be coming in - usually snow; this year, thunderstorms - and whatever that may entail (buckling down the outside decorations, shoveling sidewalks, mud and dirt and snow and ice and all kinds of things being tracked into the house which, as I may have said, cannot possibly be vacuumed enough). For the past three years, I've been trying to get my non-church-going family (and anti-God/anti-religion) family to join me at the Christmas Eve or Christmas Eve Eve service at my church, an idea they've been open to but one that has never panned out. One year, one of the kids choked on his dinner and mildly puked, then nobody wanted to go. Another year, it was icing or sleeting or something and nobody wanted to get out in it. Last year, we were all just plumb too tired to even try, and so it ends up that not even I get to go to Christmas Eve services, which is just one more bit of distance that comes between me and the Christmas season.
Is this story sounding familiar to anyone? Add your own spin to it, put your own characters into the narrative, but isn't this the kind of stuff most of us are putting up with or sorting out or struggling through around this time of year? It's a mess.
And it's a mess because there's not a lot of Christ in it.
Go ahead. Go through your own Christmas story and see how much of Christ is left in all the hubbub. Then take 'Christ' out of 'Christmas' and see what you have left. ...it's 'mess.' Just a mess.
Sometimes, I wish I knew only as much about Christmas as I knew when I was a kid. Not about Santa Claus, but about Jesus. I wish I knew just that Jesus was coming, that He always does, and that it doesn't matter how good or bad I've been any given year. He's coming anyway. He's just...coming.
That's all I really need to know.
No stress. No mess. Just Christmas.