The other day I was in a grocery store picking up a few things and I heard it, something I wasn't that interested in hearing yet, something that, when you hear it too early, inspires precisely the opposite sentiment intended. That it is Christmas music.
There's a saying: someone will say something is imminent, something's coming, and then someone else will say: "So's Christmas!" And it is. Christmas is coming. I can't stop it, but I can say that I wish it wasn't so quickly pushed on us.
Christmas is a mixed bag. In that bag there is both blessing and curse, good and bad, pleasure and pain, stress and peace. And, inevitably, each year when it approaches I experience mixed feelings. A part of me looks forward to time with family, giving and receiving gifts, seeing the look on my daughter's face when she opens presents. And then another part of me dreads the extra busyness, trips to insanely crowded stores, the swelled budget, and the emotions that go along with years of Christmas memories.
We can bring with us all kinds of unspoken and even unconscious expectations to holidays such as Christmas. Maybe especially Christmas. For years I had a picture in my head of an ideal Christmas. And each year that ideal picture was frustrated. Now, the ideal itself was questionable, to be sure, but I imagine that I'm not unique in having one. Usually there's the perfect Christmas we picture and there's the Christmas we actually experience.
Someone told me the other that the big problem with Christmas is that people get all worked up about how they want it to turn out, their expectations get all ramped up, and so inevitably they end up disappointed. I think that's true. And I think it's partly because people want Christmas to be special and to be the kind of experience that transcends the rest of life. So for example we hope against hope that at least for one day we won't argue with anyone in our family, that there will be "peace on earth." Or that there will be peace at least while someone is passing the potatoes and stuffing and until all the gifts are unwrapped.
Of course, there is nothing special about Christmas -- there's nothing magical about that date on the calendar. If you don't have peace in your heart already, you're not altogether likely to find it on that day. The holiday won't do the job of peace-making for us. Only he whose name is at the root of this holy-day can bring such peace. And the peace he longs to bring to each of us is something we need more than one day out of 365! To that extent, every day should be Christmas day.
So Christmas is coming. Yes it is. And since my wife and mother-in-law love Christmas, I've already begun to hear about it at home too. I guess what I don't like about hearing the music in the stores already is that the mood it hopes to invoke is a manufactured peace, a commercialized sense of hope and cheer. It's the way peace, love, joy, and hope are sold as sale items at WalMart.
When we think we can purchase what we need, we lose sight of the fact that with Christmas God began the transaction that gives us all we need. God purchased our peace through the incarnation -- the coming of God in the flesh -- and eventually through the blood of the cross. What we need, we cannot use a credit card to acquire. What God freely gives, we can never buy. There's never enough money in our account. Love became flesh and blood on that first Christmas. It is a love freely offered, freely given, to be freely received. So when someone says to you, "Christmas is coming," I hope that this comes to your mind more quickly than that shopping list you've drawn up.