December 14, 2009

It's the Most ____________ Time of the Year

What would you write in that blank? Wonderful? Busy? Frustrating? Depressing? Mind-numbing? All of the above? Whatever the answer, I can sympathize with you! Just this morning I walked into the post office just behind a lady carrying a stack of packages higher than her head. I followed her in and stood in line behind her as she waited to unload her burden on the big blue counter. “It’s almost over” I said with a smile – referring to her precarious journey to the front of the line. But I think she thought I meant: ‘Christmas is almost over.’ ‘I’ll be glad when it is’ she replied. Then she followed herself up: ‘Isn’t that pathetic?’

I felt her pain. It’s the most busy time of the year … and sometimes the most frustrating. ‘Little nephew Billy already has every toy known to man … and now I have to roam around Toys R Us looking for something original, and knowing he’ll only play with it for 3 minutes before the next battery operated noise-making piece of plastic is unwrapped.’ That is the way it goes sometimes. We look forward to the holidays – time to relax; time to be with family; time to think about the incarnation of our Lord, and so on. But so often those plans never materialize.

Between Macy’s, the Christmas tree farm, the office party, and the endless autographing of Christmas cards … there’s scarcely any time to relax. The family gatherings are often awkward and strange. And by the time we get through with it all, we’d much rather just slump down on the couch and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (which I do enjoy!) than do any deep meditating on the nativity. And so the most wonderful time of the year comes and goes all too quickly … and often without feeling very wonderful at all. Add to these things the fact that the holiday gatherings often emphasize the painful fact that there is now an empty chair at Christmas dinner … and it is no wonder that many people struggle with the holidays.

I wish I could fix all the frustrations and ease all the hubbub for each of you. Fact is I have enough trouble managing my own calendar. So this article isn’t so much filled with solutions to the Christmas dilemmas that we all face as much as it is a sympathetic word to say: ‘I feel your pain.’

However, my one word of pastoral counsel, to quote the famous skit by Bob Newhart, is simply: STOP IT! Yes, you have obligations to fulfill. Yes, there are places to go and people to see (and buy for). But at some point this Christmas season you’re going to just have to stop doing all the circus tricks that American culture seems to require at this time of year … and get down to what is most important. You’re going to have to say ‘no’ to some things, and leave the less important things undone … so that your kids don’t end up frustrated with Christmas, too; so that you have that time to really think about Jesus; so that the days away from work that the holidays afford are cashed in for family-building, spiritual, eternal, Christ-honoring purposes.

In one sense, Christmas is just like every other time of the year. The incarnation is just as valuable in the heatwave of August as it is when the icicles hang perfectly from the eaves. Contemplation of Christ, together as a family, is just as important in May as it is in December. But the Christmas season provides the peculiarity of extra time off, of extra time with loved ones, and of extra emphasis on the person and work of Jesus. Don’t miss those opportunities this Christmas!

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