Christmastime has arrived in yet another year of my life; a perfect time revisit a lesson. If you are like me, you vacillate between hating the trappings of Christmas, yet loving the reason Christmas is celebrated. How does one explain this dichotomy?
Too often it comes out of my mouth as, “I hate Christmas.” Inaccurate. I hate ridiculous noise labeled “Christmas songs” (carols and hymns are fine, the Winter Wonderland and the Santa variety are not). I despise whiny children in retail stores and nasty grown-ups in the same (at any time of year this is true, in my experience it happens more at Christmas). I loathe the guilt and pressure to buy someone a gift because they are related to me, bought me a gift, or because I “have to.” Like most of my fellow Americans, I deplore the near-inevitable sugar rush and weight gain that takes place during the “holiday season.”
Do the above reasons really mean that I hate Christmas? Well, no. There are good things about Christmas: watching White Christmas with my sisters, making Mexican wedding cakes with my mom, building fires (as taught by my dad years ago), Christmas Eve midnight service with my dad and grandma, reading Christmas stories that make me cry, getting songs from The Muppet’s Christmas Carol stuck in my head, a plethora of good Christmas albums to listen to, spending time with family, etc.
Does this last list mean that I love Christmas? Again, no. Amy Grant’s Tender Tennessee Christmas and the smell of the woodstove burning while making Christmas decorations don’t make Christmas what it is. Reading Luke 2 with the family doesn’t either. Contrary to what many persons, even Christians, believe, Christmas is not about being with family. Christmas isn’t based on how I feel or if things are “like they were” when I was younger.
I’m not the first to say that what we call “nostalgia” is really a horrible imitation and corruption of one of God’s greatest gifts: Joy (as titled by C. S. Lewis) or Beauty (as described by Sheldon Vanauken). I probably won’t be the last to say such, either.
Often we long to go back or we wish that certain events were like they were when we were in our rosier days (what ever and when ever they might have been). We want what movies call “magical” moments. What we really want is not the experience, but the feeling that went with the experience. This is not magic or nostalgia. Inside we truly and desperately crave Joy or Beauty.
In Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis captures well what happens when we revisit a place or memory, or attempt to recreate an experience: lust or idolatry. The two are really the same and neither are good or truly desirable. You might think that you are a “good person” who has not done such an atrocious thing, but tell me, do you ever desire to revisit special memories? Do you remember the excitement that went with many “firsts” in your life? Those were special things or times, but neither your nor I can live in our memories or go back to our “firsts.” When we miss out on the here and now for either something good in our memories or some hoped-for thing in our future, we make the past or future an idol. We lust after what we do not have rather than enjoying what we do. Lust and idolatry ensnare, whereas Joy and Beauty bring freedom.
How does one pursue Joy or Beauty when it come to Christmas? Should one abandon traditions? I’m not going to quit watching my favourite Christmas movies, or making cookies, or listening to Christmas carols. I may not send cards at Christmas (letters throughout the year are more preferable for me anyway), and I may not purchase gifts (even for the persons I am “supposed” to) unless someone is in need or I find something fitting. Of course, none of those things are particularly related to Christmas.
I can’t go backward seeking a feeling. I could just sit idly by as the whirlwind of Christmas passes me. Thankfully I am not limited to two options. I can do something rather different from what the majority (of Americans) does: I can move forward. I can go further up and further in to the life and world that God has created. But more than that, I must go further up and further in to the LORD Himself.
Even as I type I am moving further up and in. I wanted this essay to somehow capture a conversation about this very idea that I had in the Autumn. But that conversation was a one-time gift. I do wish it had been recorded so I could remember all of the neat things I was learning. Conversations are like much else in life, they are fluid. You can’t take a snapshot of a conversation. They live and breathe as-it-were, they move, they finish and die away. All of these things are natural.
Perhaps I am learning a little of what it means to go further up and in. I will miss new thoughts and feelings and vistas if I remain where I am or forever try to recreate something past. I must reach higher. I must look further. I must learn not to be afraid of losing what I had, rather, it is time to rejoice in what I am being given and what I will be given.
Come friends! Let us go further up and further in!!