“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
It's true, and if you have known me for any length of time you know that I don't exactly have a love afair with the Christmas season. Over the past few years I have begun to work on my perspective. At one time, I proudly embraced my dislike for Christmas. I even had a Grinch tshirth that I would put on around this time of year. Of course, I justified my dislike for Christmas by saying that it was about the comercialism, the buying gifts when I didn't have the money, the barrage of Christmas music that lacked creativity and artistry, and a variety of other things. All those things had some truth behind them and contributed to the general dislike, but there was more to the story.
I loved many things about Christmas growing up. I loved seeing my extended family on my mom's side. I loved, and still love, the food. In fact, that is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving and Christmas to this day. My dad's side was more complicated. My biological dad wasn't around. I don't remember a single Christmas with him or my extended family on that side. My step dads and I had difficult relationships to say the least. My step dad that I have had since I was 13 is and was a good man who stepped into a difficult situation and did the best he could. We have a good relationship now, but that was not the case until some time after I left home. Christmas with his extended family was always pleasant, but to be forthright, I never felt like I belonged. It wasn't really their fault, they all did their best to welcome me and treat me like a member of the family, but it just never felt quite right. Even Christmas with the extended family on my mom's side had some negatives that stuck out to me. For instance, it probably wasn't true, but I always felt like I didn't get as many presents as my cousins. My perception probably had more to do with my family situation than anything based in reality, nevertheless, my perception remained.
After becoming an adult and getting married Christmas became more complicated. My biological dad came back into my life. While in many ways that has been a good thing for me, and now my kids, in other ways it made things more difficult. Where we would spend Christmas was really the least of the issues, but it was an issue. The greater issue was coming to terms with my relationship with my dad. If he sent me a card and some money I felt like he was trying to pay me off for the times he wasn't around growing up. If he didn't send me anything it felt like I was being ignored and the feelings of abandonment grew deeper. While my dad certainly helped create that situation, there was no short term win for him. No matter what he did at that point he would lose. I have seen him take on the role of father to some of my step siblings in ways that he was never a father to me. Believe it or not, that helped my relationship with him. I am certain I will never understand the struggles he faced. What I do know is that he was capable of being a good father and that whatever kept him from being my father in a tangable and practical way, he was able to do that for others. Those years of absence can't be replaced and their impact is still felt to this day by me and my family (they probably don't realize it, but I see it), but I have come to terms and he continues to be part of my life. Christmas seems to be one of those times during the year that brings those things to the surface.
Over the past few years I have begun to realize that I have a responsibility during the Christmas season. The theological significance of Christmas is central to the Christian faith. Forget the fact that I am a pastor. If God sent His eternal son to take on human flesh so that he could live a sinless life experiencing the difficulties of living with fallen humans, including his step dad, and being born in scandalous conditions, then perhaps I should pay attention. My kids and my wife need to be led in the meaning of Christmas, and my Grinchiness (probably not a word) didn't help things. I needed to learn to celebrate. I needed to set the tone and help my kids understand the joy of the Christmas story. So, my journey began.
Now I put up Christmas lights as soon as I can, AFTER Thanksgiving. I host a Christmas party for my staff, elders, and trustees from the church (see FB pictures). This year I spent half the day making ribs and my wife and I put on a little show with her ventriloquist figures. I listen to Christmas songs both secular and sacred throughout the Christmas season. My wife still makes fun of me because it is not what she has been accustomed to for most of our married life. My kids extended family is far away, but we still celebrate, read the Christmas story and spend time together.
There are still Grinch moments. It is a chore in some ways. I don't always love it, but I put in the work to have the right attitude towards Christmas. Thanks to spotify I have found numerous Christmas playlists that fit better into the style of music I like. I listen often, in fact I am listening right now. I put up and turn on the lights even if I don't feel like it. I think about and read the Christmas story from Scripture regularly during this season. I think about the dirtyness and difficulty that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus experienced. I think about a family on the run whose life was threatened. I remember that Christmas wasn't some kind of sanitized event where the shepherds had showered and cleaned up before they visited Jesus, they were dirty, smelly, men doing a dirty, smelly job, but they wanted to see the messiah. I remember that Jesus wasn't more with a glowing halo over his head as some nativity scenes present him. He was born in a dirty manger, placed in a feeding trough. I remember that Jesus had half siblings he grew up with and there were most certainly conflicts. I remember that Jesus didn't sin, but he did develop physically, sprititually, and mentally (Luke 2:52). I remember that Christmas is the ultimate act of love expressed towards a fallen humanity living in a fallen world. That inittial act of incarnation culminated in a sacrifical death on the cross. I remember that if it wasn't for Christmas my most dearly held beliefs become meaningless. I have realized that the lights on my house bring joy to my neighbors, that Christmas is the most opportune time to express the love of Jesus to everyone I meet. I will say "merry Christmas" to everyone, not because I want to offend them, but because I want to encourage people to consider the truth of Christmas. If a person is so easily offended that they can't listen to someone wish them well then they can go be grumpy somewhere else.
So, if you hate Christmas, maybe, maybe you can begin to reform your attitude as I have. Like it or not, "merry Christmas." Hard or not, find peace and joy in the season because God sent the eternal son to live and suffer for fallen humanity. Listen to some Christmas music, put up some lights, and love your neighbors.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.