I’m Just Not Feeling It This Year
DECEMBER 2, 2020
It’s December and Christmas. Bah humbug!
Actually, I don’t feel that way as much anymore. It could be age, sanctification, or surrender. Whatever the reason, I’m a lot better about the Scrooge thing at Christmas than I used to be. I think my irritation with Christmas had more to do with being a pastor at Christmas than the holiday itself. I never minded the packed malls, the decorations, or even the interminable Christmas music everywhere. I got that part and, even if I wasn’t altogether happy with it, I could accept it. But, if you’re a pastor at Christmas, your schedule is insane, your counseling load doubles, and writing Christmas sermons that say anything new and different (after everything has been said time and time again, and for over 2,000 years) is quite the challenge. It can easily make one a Scrooge. Unless you’re crazy or don’t need the job, you hide it as a pastor . . . but it’s still there.
One of the really good things about no longer being a pastor is that I’m not a pastor at Christmas. The thought of that almost causes me to dance and speak in tongues . . . neither of which Presbyterians do very well or very often.
But Christmas—pastor or not—is still a problem, isn’t it? It’s a hectic and crazy time anyway. Add the COVID thing and the fact that we’re all going to die, and Christmas can be a problem. You know the list. The relatives we can’t see (the ones we wanted to see, that is), the forgotten Christmas present, the extra cooking and preparation, the putting up and taking down of decorations, the addressing of Christmas cards or writing Christmas letters . . . all the additions to an already crazy schedule, not to mention the chaos and the clutter. Christmas spirit? Not so much. In fact, I’ve noticed that what I hear most often at Christmas is, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m just not feeling it this year.”
Nothing’s wrong with you. You just forgot that you felt exactly the same way last year. Someone has said that Christmas should be canceled because nothing—absolutely nothing—can live up to the promise and hype of Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is a wonderful time as long as you don’t buy into the hype and unrealistic expectations. Behind it all is the astonishing reality that there is a God who is different than some have told us . . . a God who is kind and merciful, and whose love is so great that he would come to “the dark planet” to die and redeem us. In fact, even in my worst Scrooge days, the Christmas Eve service was always (and still is) my favorite service of the year. By then, all the “stuff” is either taken care of or it’s too late . . . and we are free to be still, remember, and celebrate.
But there’s still the question. What do we do about not feeling the Christmas spirit?
As an aside, if none of this applies to you—as it doesn’t to my wife, Anna, who loves the chaos of Christmas (every bit of it) and so much so that our home looks like a Christmas shop—you don’t have to read what follows. In fact, I might be the only person who winces at Christmas and everything that goes along with it. If that’s true (which I suspect isn’t the case), I’m writing all of this for me, okay?
So what should we do? At least for me, at the beginning of the Christmas season, it’s important to remember that God cuts slack. Well, God always cuts slack, but at Christmas maybe a bit more.
It’s common for seminary students to experience a loss of their devotional life and feelings of intimacy with God. It was always amusing to me at faculty meetings when we talked about restoring that with Spiritual Formation courses. I wanted to say (but never did), “You’re crazy! That won’t work. It’s like giving a book on fire prevention to someone whose house is burning down.” (Actually what would have helped was to lessen the intensity of the academic load, but that wasn’t going to happen and shouldn’t have.)
I would often tell my students, “Look, God cuts you slack when you’re in seminary. When you get out, you can fix it; but, for now, do what’s necessary to get your education and forget about ‘seasons of prayer’ and the ‘victorious Christian life.’ Pray the Lord’s Prayer every day . . . and pray for your mother. That’s enough. God will understand.” God really does cut slack for us all (that’s what justification, imputation, and adoption are all about). That’s true over Christmas too.
Jesus said, “…My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). During the Christmas season, if you should forget your “quiet time,” cuss a little more (or think about it), and become more irritated and snap at a store clerk (who, of course, runs the department store), or just can’t stand one more “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” remember that grace and mercy apply at Christmas.
And then I stop . . . at least when I can. Do you know how good a glass of cold water tastes after you’ve been out in the sun working all day or walking on the stupid treadmill (because the doctor told you to)? That glass of cold water is a little bit of heaven. It’s no accident that Jesus called himself “living water” (John 4). And then, back to Matthew, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest . . . for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
There really is a quiet place even if you can’t get there as much as you would like. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” You might not be able to be as still as you want to be—it’s Christmas, after all—but go there when you can and Jesus will meet you. You’ll find enough “gasoline” there to get you through the mall or the next Christmas party.
And there is one other thing I find helpful. When I do find time to be still, I remember that Christmas reflects the celebration of an actual space and time event. It really happened. A part of the problem with Christmas—what we see, hear, and smell—is that the whole experience feels like a fantasy. It reminds me of Disney World . . . only with camels and a crèche instead of bears and Country Bear Jamboree. One simply substitutes Mary and Joseph for Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Okay, that may be a bit over the top, but you get my point. There is so much that is magical at Christmas that it sometimes feels like something out of a fairy tale. Fun, but certainly not true. It seems too good to be true and, once the celebration is over, we go back into the “real world.” Christmas, however, is about the real world. It’s not too good to be true . . . it is true.
There is a German play (I can’t remember the name of it) where the leading character is a physician who starts well, but gradually sells out to Hitler. Throughout the play, there is a band playing appropriate music for particular scenes. At the end of the play, the physician realizes that he has sold his soul and cries out, “I didn’t know . . . the music was real.” In the case of that play, the music was dissonant and dark. In the case of Christmas, the carols are joyful and beautiful. And, best of all, real.
The opening of Hebrews is astonishing: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
You have to work to find a quiet place at Christmas where you can “be still and know that God is God.” In the quiet place, though, think about all he has gone through to make sure you have a merry Christmas. If you can’t get there a lot he will, as always, cut you slack . . . but remember that the music is real.
Christmas means that you’re forgiven for everything. It means that you’re loved more than you can imagine. It means that you’re acceptable and God made up his mind about you a long time ago. And it means that you’re going to live forever and in the future, you will have time to celebrate the birthday of Jesus properly.
Not only that, he’ll be there to, as it were, blow out the candles.
It will be called the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb.”
Talk about a merry Christmas!
He asked me to remind you.