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