Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tis seasonal…

Until the sky ripped open recently, and a foot-deep white blanket descended, I hadn’t really felt the Christmas spirit yet this year. Sure, I saw the commercials. We bought a tree and decorated it. I’ve preached two advent sermons, reread Jesus’ origin stories in both Matthew and Luke. Still, to my psyche, life hasn’t felt like anything other than normal routine. Just days before The Day, even Christmas carols sound strange to my ears, premature.

I sound about two keystrokes away from typing, “Ba-hum-bug,” right?! It’s not that. I’m not anti-Christmas or bitterly un-festive. I’m simply emotionally unprepared to celebrate the season, for whatever reason.

During school years, this Christmas spirit delay never happened. For starters, we anticipated time off from the ‘normal’ homework routine months in advance! Plus, I also made a bigger deal of receiving gifts and toys and such. This year, my family’s present will be new tires and a board game. Both welcome additions, mind you, but not as desperately desired. Maybe, now that I pay for gifts, the joy of receiving diminishes. Or perhaps I’m learning there’s something decent and spiritually mature about living simply, being content with what you have. I’ll admit that I haven’t always cultivated such a personal perspective. Or maybe something deeper is happening, something more profound than no snow, busy work life, frugality.

Which leads me to ask: What, after all, is the so-called Christmas Spirit? Is it real? Manufactured? And why would it come and go with the seasons?

One enduring Christmas memory involves the no-commercials music station that provided atmosphere to my teenage workplace. Muzak, it was called, playing endless Adult Contemporary Top 40. Until just after Thanksgiving, when Muzak began choosing Holiday songs around the clock. We would go batty by December 15, having heard Jingle Bell Rock for the 12,314th time. And we were convinced, absolutely certain!, that our customers felt the same. They, after all, perhaps worked in stores with similar holiday sounds as well. Surely, they also had consumed way too many Santa Songs and Reindeer Rambles. But oh no, every day until after Muzak shifted back, one of every five customers would sing along, dance and smile. We’d say, “Happy Holidays.” They’d respond, “Back at ya!” And mean it. We’d smile in response, watch them leave and silently admit…we meant it too.

That’s the Christmas Spirit I think, in some small way. People interacting joyously, with a bit more bounce and delight, welcome and grace. It’s corny. It’s overdone. It can be WAY too forced sometimes. And how I wish I’d been caught up in that spirit earlier this year than I have.

Perhaps this says more about me than life in general, but I doubt I’m alone. It’s just I think most ‘normal’ days aren’t as bouncy and bright as Christmas Spirit-inspired days. Some are flat out dull and dour. I don’t like those days! Most are better, some are wonderful, the majority fluctuating from “whatever” to “quite fine”. Holiday days, by contrast, though they’re usually not objectively different, feel different to me, feel consistently on better side of the spectrum. I might cook, write sermons, call on folk, act ‘normal’. Someone may experience something terribly tragic, another family may welcome a baby. Underneath it all, however, from the awful to the majestic, a feint glow bolsters me during those times, when I’m attuned to the holiday spirit. As if to make me admit that, though most ‘normal’ days don’t include anticipating feasts or presents, nevertheless my faith teaches that Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is with us, always. That holiday spirit, then, may be a divine Spirit, toward which the coming commemoration focuses my mind and heart.

So, ideally, this Christmas spirit shouldn’t change with the seasons. Again, Christ’s birth, life and resurrection reveal to Christians God’s ever-present, abiding grace (Jews and Muslims likely describe their holiday spirits differently!). But being human, it’s hard to always remember those ideas, feel that spirit, remain that buoyant. And that’s exactly why I’m glad Christmas comes yearly, and that I’m feeling its spirit again, finally. It’s good to remember what’s most important. Someone turn up the Muzak!

Grace and Peace,

Read more!