Why Christmas is so great, and so awful . . .

Have you noticed that most people either hate Christmas or else they love it? It’s either a time of great joy and anticipation or else deep sorrow and dread. I’ve got a guess as to why that is.

I think that the historical significance of Christmas destines it to always be either the aroma of life or else the smell of death to most everyone. Even though the holiday has been almost buried completely under layer upon layer of myth, folklore, marginally relevant symbols, and retail megahype, from somewhere underneath the surface there shines some kind of light from another place.

Listen to the songs. Even the ones not about Jesus are for some reason filled with hope. There is a distinctive ring of happiness and excitement, whatever the reason, in almost all of those songs. But why? And where else in this day and age are you likely to find something having that effect on the moods of people even though covered with a pile of flippant distractions? What else under our current culture’s interpretation of life would afford us some reason for hope? Christmas speaks of hope and promise, and grace.

Which is why, paradoxically, Christmas is so depressing to so many. When everything inside you tells you that this should be a perfect time, full of joy, but that joy is thwarted by something, it only makes it worse that everything around you seems to say that you should be having a merry time. Nothing makes you feel worse than feeling depressed when everyone around you is having a blast (or at least pretending to be). Every misfortune becomes more tragic at a time when everything is supposed to be fantastic. Now at the risk of pouring salt on a wound, I’d like to tell you a couple (or three) reasons why I love Christmas.

We learned that God can come in the flesh. In fact, Mary’s revelation was only the beginning. She was unique in that she was chosen to carry the Savior of the world in her womb, but we are called to know what it’s like to carry him in our own selves as well. It is no less an incredible thing to find out that you are “favored among many” yourself. God is still here in flesh, but now it’s yours and mine.

Another reason I love it is because of the music itself. I mean even the notes. Just listen to the beauty inspired by this season. Men and women have been moved to express things by this event like none other. What other moment could inspire the Hallelujah chorus? Or Jesu, Joy of Men’s Desiring? Or O Holy Night? Or What Child is This? Something larger than life is cracking through our pitiful little mortal beings when those notes are sounded, I’m sure of it.

One more thing. How about a season that makes us leave work for several days and travel all the way back to our families of origin in order to celebrate just being together again? What else in our culture causes so many to do this? No matter how little you’ve spoken to your Mom, you’ll be home for Christmas, or else you’ll agonize over wishing you could be. I think that’s fantastic.


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