The Burden Christmas Carries
I was in my car listening to Christmas music - it is what is on 100% of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas...if you do not function that way, I question whether you even like Christmas ;) Anyway, I cannot get enough. I've been that way since I was a child. I LOVE Christmas. Anyway, I was in my car and I started thinking about Christmas and the way it's shouldered this burden for so many.
When I was a young child, it's all about presents and this "feeling" you get when you experience the warmth of the fire, the cold air outside, the decor, the music; what most would call the spirit of the season. It would bring thrill throughout my whole being! I am not over-exaggerating here, either. Oh, and the smell of the food my mom cooks (and still does!) this time of year. The whole season just warmed up my heart. And this burden - subconsciously - was placed on Christmas to bring this warmth year after year. To reenact the perfect memory I had of the previous one, or the few before that...I'd be fueled by the nostalgia of the good feelings, presents and thrill of the stuffed stockings. I began to look at the season with expectation. The expectation that Christmas would fill my cup with a unique joy and comfort until next time it came around.
When I was a newly launched "out-of-the-nest" young adult (say that 3 times fast), Christmas was filled with that same expectation, but failed to meet it because the child-like thrill diminishes over time - it's inevitable: elements of the season are stripped away as reality sets in (no Rudolf or magic sleigh, or jolly old man that gives presents to all the kids in the world, people are not in perfect harmony as we once maybe thought; we start to see the world without the naive lens of a child). But, oh, the nostalgia for that feeling was still there. In a real sense, Christmas began to shoulder a larger burden: for it to bring joy that I wasn't able to feel the rest of the year, for a longing of a magical time I remembered when I was a child. For the time with family to be fulfilling and feel "hallmark-esq" with laughter, fun and easy conversations. I anticipated thoughtfulness and presence (not just presents), connection and ease with those around me...I expected for all to be "right".
I would look for the comfort of familiarity; I longed to be wrapped in my childhood-reminiscent-feeling of Christmas. Every time I went home it felt sweet, yes, but it didn’t ever completely meet that expectation I was seeking. Not the way I remembered it, at least. And as soon as the season was over, there was a little (or a lot depending on the year) of deflation. Even the most sweet Christmases were fleeting, and left me anticipating the next.
Several of us, eventually, shift the expectation to "the kids" - for them to feel this magic and bring a joy to us through their child-like response to the season. Then, in a real way, they are carrying this burden...our experience of the season is now a result of how they respond, the way they shriek when they open a gift, the fun events we can add to try to spark as much "magic" as possible and some (of us) go to great lengths to keep it alive as long as possible. We have now shifted a burden onto their belief in a magic that fades. We keep putting our expectations onto things that are ever changing, unreliable and unpredictable. Now hear me when I say, I do not believe the family traditions or cultural additions to the holiday are bad in their own right - I get weepy watching any Christmas movies, enjoy decorating cookies, love seeing my kids' eyes sparkle at excitement toward the make-believe elements of the season. Even so, those alone are not strong enough to carry the burden for the repeatable, lasting joy we place on them.
And maybe for you, it was always a longing of what you thought Christmas should be. Your house was broken, the tree was bare, the stockings were empty or there wasn't the laughter that the movies promised. Maybe Christmas was a time of disappointment, and Christmas was your annual reminder that your home was strained or even broken.
Whether you are holding on to romanticized memories of Christmas, find yourself looking to reignite those, or you grew up feeling like you haven't experienced the Christmas others' seemed to be cheerfully enjoying...Christmas as this idea of perfect harmony and warmth and joy bears a burden it cannot hold.
As much as we pour into this season, the season itself cannot return what we expect and truly desire from it.
The only thing that can carry that weight of this burden is Jesus. He met the expectation the very first Christmas - as He took on flesh and humbled himself to a helpless baby, stepped into a broken world of hurt, suffering and darkness. Christmas is a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham - a promise planned before the beginning of time. God was fulfilling everything He had promised to Abraham, Moses, David...through all of the prophets, Jesus was carrying a burden of expectation...and delivered.
Further, Christmas is a declaration that God is faithful to ALL of His promises; so, now, we can look forward to the future promise and have real expectation; the One we’re putting that burden on can - not only - carry it, but He brings us peace and joy while we wait. That is what we celebrate at Christmas. That is what sustains us beyond a season. Not only that He came, but what it means that He came. Our Comforter, the Light of the World, our Savior, our Good Shepherd. He promises to come again, and as we wait with expectation of that return, we are promised for Him to guide us, shape us and work all things together for our good and His glory.
So I ask this Christmas, can you look beyond the presents, the trees, the family gatherings and all the expectations tied to those? Enjoy them for what they are - be thankful for the sweet memories - but release any burdens you place upon them? Can you take that long-past, nostalgic child-like expectation for the season and shift it to Jesus? Can you look, stay focused, on the One who can carry that burden, then wait expectantly for Him to bring peace to you today and in fullness when He promises to come back again?
And I leave you with,
MERRY MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours!
May you be blessed this year with the thrill of hope in "who is and who was and who is to come" (Rev. 1:8)