Among my family and close friends I have somehow acquired a reputation for being a "Scrooge." This is a badge I wear somewhat proudly when it pertains to banning Christmas music and decorations before Thanksgiving, and getting the tree out of the house as soon as possible after Christmas day. I get angry at radio stations devoted to playing the same ridiculous "Christmas songs" on a loop all day. And I just can't watch commercials anymore.
I wasn't always like this. I actually used to be a pretty sentimental person.
But now I see myself--I'm a cynical 80-year-old in a 31-year-old's body. I hear about Santa bringing toys to children around the world, and wonder why he doesn't visit the slums of Mumbai. My Facebook feed is an absurd string of terrible news from all over the world mixed with videos about how to tie a ribbon or fold a napkin. (And let me tell you, nothing brings out the self-righteousness in me quite like social media.) But I know cynicism and a critical spirit are not the answer to over-sentimentalizing Christmas. These things just increase my awareness that I lack love--it's easy to think I love strangers in Iraq, and yet the truth comes out as I have no love for those who don't think like me in my own social circle.
Beyond my cynicism, though, or maybe contributing to it, is my increasing awareness of the earth groaning. It's almost always been this way--two chapters into the Bible things took a devastating turn, and so I know I shouldn't be shocked to see war and pain in a world that is still reeling from the effects of rebellion against its Creator.
But how do we rejoice when our fellow image-bearers are forced into prostitution, beheaded, or kidnapped? When men are suffocated on the street, or assassinated just for doing their jobs? When the least of these are victims of domestic abuse or rape? When children are abused by those they trust?
When our friends are bearing weights of longing unfulfilled and broken promises. When thousands of children die daily from things like diarrhea. When our brothers and sisters have no home for the holidays, or families are torn apart from years of pain?
How do we celebrate in the midst of all these things?
I can't bear to hear another rendition of "Holly Jolly Christmas." Maybe I'm extra Scrooge-y, or maybe the earth is groaning louder than normal, or maybe I'm hormonal (strong possibility).
But in the midst of my lament and internal battles ("Why am I so critical of others?" "Why can't I just enjoy this season like everyone else?" "Why am I so judge-y all the time?"), the strains of familiar hymns break through, pulling me out of my prideful cynicism.
Because the truth is, this Baby--the earth's one hope--actually knew what it was to be homeless. To be abused. To have family turn against him. To hunger. To be murdered.
So these are the words I have on repeat--literally and just in my heart, over and over again, preaching what is true, forcing my Grinch heart to grow:
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and donkeys are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spears shall pierce him through,
the cross he bore for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the Babe, the Son of Mary.
No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
So I will rejoice. Because the same Savior who will, once and for all, disperse the gloomy clouds of night in the world is, by His impossible-to-grasp presence in my heart, dispersing my own gloominess.
And this Christmas as I battle cynicism and survivor's guilt (knowing I have never experienced the pain of so many others), I rejoice at the grace of this simple, extraordinary gift. A child; a king; a Savior.
*Photo credit: Tom Simpson