Hello dear reader,
Well, a quick look back in the archives and you’ll see it’s been a while – a long while since I last wrote.
It’s Christmas eve and once again I’ve been reflecting, maybe even a little more than usual. If for you Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and you never have that nagging, niggling feeling that there’s something more, I’d say this one is not for you.
Merry Christmas and I’ll see you later.
But if for you Christmas is complicated, this one might be for you.
As our lives change, the lives of our families change, and hopefully we do too and often how we do Christmas changes too.
A number of people I know are going to be having a different Christmas this year.
For some, this is your first year with children who’ve chosen to “Christmas” elsewhere, for some this is your first year outside of a key relationship, for some Covid has struck and you’ve chosen to spend it away from family – not because you want to, but because you believe you should. For some, it’s your first Christmas without a loved one, and for others, your 10th, and the sense of loss, and sadness remains. For others of us, we feel something too but we can’t pinpoint what it is that’s making us feel this way.
And I think the truth is, that is what Christmas is really about.
The aching void that wasn’t filled by the new air pods, or the Gretsch, or the GoPro, or the puppy …
The aching void has marked mankind for millennia.
While commercialism and materialism have led us to believe that filling the void is all about finding the right thing, the best gifts, and having the whole family together, the reality is that it’s actually about what we have been given for free.
I’m going to dip into a few clichés for a bit here. Almost every Christmas movie you’ve seen tells you the gift is recognising what you already have … isn’t it?
It’s not what’s under the tree, it’s who’s gathered around it?
Now, excuse me for being a little Grinchy or Scrooge-ish here – but what if what you have isn’t that great?
What if what’s around the tree is dysfunction, trauma, and hurt? This is true for people all the world over. This Christmas there will be countless people in very difficult sometimes, traumatic situations. This is where our approach to Christmas comes up short – and I think this is why more often than not most of us, whether we want to admit it or not, after Christmas still feel like something is missing. The new watch, though exactly what you wanted, didn’t quite fill the void, and the cash to go towards your next holiday didn’t quite leave you feeling as though it was enough for the upgrade you wanted. Before you start to think “my goodness I didn’t realise she was so anti-Christmas” let me just reassure you that I’m not. I have been blessed with people who do Christmas very well – but I am coming to realise more and more that this is not the case for everyone – this might be the exception and not the rule.
I’ve spent quite a while – months at this stage musing on C.S Lewis’ thoughts regarding the three types of people. In one of my favourite books Mere Christianity – he tells us that there are 3 types of people in the world when it comes to hope and happiness.
The Foolish, the Sensible (or disillusioned), and the Christian (or hope-filled).
Let’s be honest what we are looking for in Christmas is hope and happiness. And for some reason, I think this is what we grapple with every year.
The first two approaches to Christmas ultimately leave us feeling empty and dejected, but I think the third might be the answer. The third is perhaps the way to view Christmas rightly. The third is about what we have been offered for free.
So, let’s view what C.S Lewis says through this season’s lens. Let me just say though, I’m not having a crack at anyone, I personally get excited about giving, and receiving gifts, I love getting together with the people who matter to me, and I have been known to get carried away and overspend. I loooove my mum’s trifle …(hope you are reading this Mum!) I don’t mind cranking some Christmas carols (though I do skip Mariah – soz MC). I have been the first two types of people every Christmas ever… and I hope to more often than not, find my way to being the third. So what follows is more of a reminder for me than for anyone else.
The first type of person is the “foolish” person:
This is the person who hopes that they will find satisfaction in things or people. At Christmas time I’m assuming they have a list of things they want that is a mile long. To be honest as a kid this was me – I’d helpfully write a list of all the things I wanted and put it on the fridge.
This is the kind of person for whom a good Christmas is defined by what they got, was it the best brand, is it better than the neighbour’s or school friend’s or sibling’s, was it the colour they specifically requested? And whether or not the whole family was there – did we get a good photo?
Sometimes by Christmas night despite your best attempts, all you have is a mess to clean up. Everyone seemed happy with what they got – but were they really? The aftermath is weariness, the scent of perfectly popped Christmas bon-bons still hangs in the air, wrapping paper is distributed throughout the house as are discarded dishes, half consumed drinks, you have a gift tag stuck to the bottom of your foot, and you’ve just stepped in something someone dropped on the floor. The cheesecake you took hours to make has been demolished and you didn’t even get a taste. The new things you so desperately wanted you have, but now you have to find a spot to put them. And maybe it doesn’t look as good as you thought it would after all. And as for the family photo – well it’s going to need some serious work because even from this distance you can see that this was taken after your sisters had their annual Christmas argument, the one they’ve been having for the past 20 years, and your nephew was still sulking about the gift he received.
If our enjoyment of Christmas comes only from people and things, then it will be a disappointment.
Just to clarify, it is not foolish to give and receive gifts. The foolishness lies in the belief that once I have the GoPro (insert appropriate gift here) I will be happy.
To further clarify enjoying time with family and those important to you is not foolishness either unless you believe that once we’re all together under one roof we will all be happy. If your hope is in things and people, you will be disappointed. This statement leads me neatly to the next type of person.
The second type of person is:
The Disillusioned – or the “sensible” person. Probably from the description of the end of Christmas day you can tell which camp I tend to land in more often than not. Lower your expectations and then you can’t be disappointed.
This is the person who has realised that things aren’t going to satisfy and that people will let you down … and so as a result they repress the part of themselves that hopes. This person is the cynic.
Think Scrooge and his “Bah Humbug”.
The Grinch and his regime:
4:30, stare into the abyss.
5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one.
6:30, dinner with me—I can’t cancel that again.
7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing… I’m booked.
Of course, if I bump the loathing to 9, I could still be done in time to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and slip slowly into madness.
This person has the same aching void to fill but they know it won’t be filled with the new watch. And so, they sit in unhappiness and disillusionment.
The third type of person is the hope-filled person:
The person who knows Christmas is more than what you give and more than the gifts you receive; it’s more than the people you do or don’t spend your time with.
For these people, there is more to Christmas than egg nog, fairy lights and well wishes.
For these people, Christmas is about the turning point of time.
Christmas is about the Light that shone into the darkness.
Christmas is about Hope
Christmas is about Peace.
Christmas is about Joy.
Christmas is about a Child born and a Son – given.
Christmas is about outcasts.
A promise fulfilled.
If your family aren’t with you – I think the people who were there at the very beginning of Christmas get it.
If you are away from home – I think they might get it too.
If you are feeling like a stranger in a strange land …
If you are feeling like you have to make do with what you have and are worried that it isn’t enough – I’m pretty sure we have ample evidence to see that you my friends, are on the right side of Christmas and maybe, you are in the exact spot to grasp it as it should be grasped.
The dawn of hope, the day spring has appeared.
If you are already feeling dissatisfied, I encourage you to look for something different this year – Hope. Instead of hoping to find the happiness which so many of us seek – we should look for the Hope.
The Hope is the answer to the aching void.
The Hope presented to us so many years ago.
In the birth of a baby.
The gift of God.
The Son of God.
God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.
Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.C.S Lewis
Christmas, at the risk of repeating a cliché, is about seeking Christ.
The wise men knew it, the shepherds knew it.
We know it, but so often forget it.