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I’m Not Ready for Christmas

It is December 21, 2012; four days from the day we celebrate the birth of Christ.  The forecast calls for bitter cold and snow, so we may just have a white Christmas this year after a mostly brown and warm December.  The malls are teeming with chaotic life and ravenous spending (I survived my one and only foray into the temple to consumerism with the kids last night!).  The end of the madness draws nigh.  I know this to be so because, aside from the aforementioned evidence, I have also reached my customary level of perplexed irritation at being asked the tired old question, “So, are you ready for Christmas?”

I am never quite sure how to answer this question.  What kind of response is my interlocutor seeking, I wonder.  Are they wondering if I have I finished all of my Christmas shopping?  Well, yes, I suppose, meager though my efforts are.  My wife (bless her soul!) knows that I cannot stand shopping and graciously does most of this for us.  We don’t buy too many presents anyway but yes, I suppose I could be said to be “ready” for this aspect of Christmas, even if I can hardly claim much merit here.

Or, perhaps I am being asked if I am “ready” for the crush of family and friends and parties and social gatherings.  Again, my response would fall into the “rather muted” category.  Sure I’m “ready.”  I love my family (both sides).  I enjoy spending time with them.  I look forward to seeing them.  Is it busy and a bit frenetic at times?  Sure.  But I am certainly not one of these people who have to spend two weeks mentally bracing themselves for the odious and taxing prospect of spending time with those to whom genetics and choice have bound them.  I’m ready.

But maybe the “are you ready?” question is professional in nature.  Am I ready for the busyness of the season in the life of the church?  Well, again, my answer would be a rather unexciting “yeah, I guess so.”  Our church has a Christmas Eve service but nothing on Christmas Day.  And our Christmas Eve service has been wonderfully planned and coordinated by people who are not me, so I am very thankful.  I have to make sure I have a sermon ready to go for December 30 knowing that the preceding week will have scant preparation time.  But compared to some of my high church colleagues who have what seems to me an incredible number of services to prepare for at this time of the year, I certainly have nothing to complain about.  I am ready to celebrate Christmas with our church family.

Is it possible that my interrogator is wondering if I am “ready” for the coming of Christ into our world and all that this signifies?  Could it be that the query is about the character of my longing, the shape of my hope?  This is, admittedly a far less likely option, but you never know.  Am I ready for the Christ child who came to initiate the great reversal of history—the lowly being lifted up, the proud being brought down?  Am I ready for peace on earth and goodwill to all?  Am I ready for no more war, no more crazed school shootings, no more natural disasters that steal and destroy human life?  Am I ready for no more corrupt politicians and unjust economic policies, no more divisions based on things that should never divide human beings?  Am I ready for shalom—for swords being beaten into plowshares, for all people, from the greatest to the smallest having God’s law written on their hearts?  Am I ready for a new heaven and a new earth, for the one who is making all things new to come again in glory?  Am I ready for the hopes and fears of all the years to be met, once and for all?  God, yes.  Yes, I am ready.

But there is a sense in which, if I am honest, I must also answer, “No” to this oft-rehearsed question.  I am not ready for Christmas in my soul.  I am not ready for the coming of Jesus, which exposes and judges and purifies and refines.  My heart is not prepared for this child who unsettles and upends.  I still cling too tightly to my cherished sins, to my preferred means of deriving identity and worth through things that are passing away, things that are always passing away.  I persist in my constant and exhausting vacillation between self-worship and self-loathing.  Or self-loathing as self-worship.  I continue to dress up conflict avoidance as virtue.  Impatience and unkindness, gracelessness, lack of charity, and, above all selfishness continue to cloud my days.  The list could go on, and it would be a long and grim one indeed.  No, I am not ready for Christmas.

Am I suggesting that we have to achieve a certain moral status before we can be said to be “ready” for Jesus’ coming?  That Jesus will not come until we are all cleaned up?  No, no, no—a thousand times no!  The Jesus that was born to a frightened teenager in a feed trough surrounded by the flies and the stench of livestock, the Jesus who came for the sick, not the healthy does not require—has never­ required—a carefully sanitized and “appropriate” place in which to reside.  Santa might give presents only to the nice kids, but Jesus has always seemed to prefer to start with the naughty.  No, no, not that.

The issue is, I think, the nature of our wanting, the shape of our readiness.  It’s easy to want generic things.  It’s relatively easy to want and be ready for world peace.  It’s easy to be ready for lions and lambs and children fearlessly playing with snakes and cities paved with streets of gold.  It’s easy to be ready for a metaphor.  It’s easy to be ready for a kind of vague and undefined goodness to magically appear from the sky, demand nothing of us, and drag us along to utopia.

But are we “ready” for the Christ child who tells us that part of being ready for these things is being open to and accepting the things that make for peace?  Are we ready to become a different kind of people who are part of the means by which peace comes?  Are we ready to let Jesus tell us who we are and how we are to live, even when—especially when—we have come to love and derive perverse meaning from the identities and modes of being we have constructed for ourselves, toxic though these are?

No, I am not ready for Christmas.  But I want to be ready.  Or, I at least want to want to be ready.  It’s not much, perhaps, but it’s a start.  And I suppose that if the story of Christmas teaches us anything it’s that God can and does work good things from small and less than glorious beginnings.

 ———

As I wrote this post, I had Young Oceans’ “Hope of Glory” looping in my headphones.  It’s a great song and the lyrics fit well with what I am feeling this morning:

Sear to my soul
Your word of truth, O Father
And make us,
Heirs of Your throne
Rescued at last from darkness
Through Jesus
 
Faithful we carry on
And gladness shall be our song
 
This is the day
For Christ the Hope of Glory
O Mystery made known
To us
Now is the time
Soon there will be no sorrow
Prepare our hearts to stand before
You Lord
 
So we proclaim
The mighty cross, O Savior
With wisdom
And to this end
Struggling as one, we labor
With Jesus
 
We will wait for You O Lord
May our hearts be ever pure
Holy Spirit fall on us
May Your blessed Kingdom come
 
10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yvonne Peters #

    I like your multi-dimensional response to the question. YP

    December 21, 2012
  2. jharader #

    I want to want to be ready. Yes.

    December 21, 2012
  3. Yes!

    I haven’t got up the courage yet, but I’ve wondered if there’s a creative way to respond to the question along these lines. But alas, that would probably only elicit a confused look (or worse), kinda like responding honestly to “how’s it going?”.

    December 22, 2012
    • Funnily enough, as I was writing this post someone came into the church and asked if I was ready for Christmas. My answer ran something along the lines of, “Um, well, yeah, I guess… It depends…” Not very eloquent or interesting, I’m afraid. It’s so much better when I can hide behind words on a screen :).

      December 22, 2012
  4. I was just browsing under the topic “are you ready for Christmas” and I happily found your blog, which so wonderfully expresses exactly how I feel about this deeply profound event–thank you so much for writing it and blessings to you!

    December 23, 2012
    • I’m glad you stopped by! Thank you for the kind words.

      December 23, 2012
  5. I would hope for you that you would experience Jesus in such a way that you would say, “Yes, I have communed with the Risen Christ. He has touched me. I have felt His presence within me. I am being redeemed.”

    What does the redeeming you look like? How does the redeeming man respond to Christmas? To himself? To his family? His friends? His community? His life?

    You are being made perfect, Ryan….”though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow”… Get with the program, brother….lol

    May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your family this Christmas season.

    December 23, 2012
    • Thank you, Paul. I appreciate the words of both grace and exhortation :). I wish the same for you and yours this Christmas as well.

      December 23, 2012
  6. Thanks my, brother. High traffic or low traffic, “Rumblings” is a great place to visit. 🙂

    Got to leave, still shopping….and so it goes…. 🙂

    December 24, 2012
    • I have always appreciated you and others who drop by here regularly, Paul. My thinking has been undoubtedly been stretched in very good ways through interactions with those with different perspectives to offer.

      Shopping on Christmas Eve, eh? I will pray for minimal contamination of your soul :).

      December 24, 2012

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