Beginnings (A Christmas Reflection)

The presents have been wrapped and unwrapped, the feast prepared and consumed, the guests come and gone, and the Christmas music that filled us with joy a few days ago has turned to noise in our ears. A sense of general ennui now fills the air, as the holiday that was filled with so much hype has passed once more, without much of the ‘magic’ our holiday movies promise. There’s often a bit of emotional whiplash this time of year, as weeks of anticipation and preparation are over in the blink of any eye, our hopes and expectations falling to earth with an empty thud. Most of this post-holiday depression is a creation of our culture, the hype machine that pumps up Christmas to unreasonable expectations combined with the calendrical sleight of hand that has made December 25 the end of a season, rather than the beginning of one. But Christmas isn’t the end at all. Christmas is a beginning: new life, light flickering into existence in the darkness, hope dawning in a weary and anxious world.

As much as we might think we like beginnings, most of us actually don’t. Our lives, communities, and cultures are deeply invested in the status quo. They are built on the foundation of old victories, hard-won compromises, and even the self-destructive coping mechanisms that were the best we could do with the resources at our disposal at the time. And so, we often live trying to maintain a kind of homeostasis, preferring the comfort of what we know to the challenge and change of what might be.

But, like a thief in the night, new beginnings always come, just as Jesus came, forever altering the relationships between humanity, God, and creation. Even as Christians, we can become blinded to this, preferring the nostalgia and sentimentality of Christmas as a “baby Jesus birthday party” to the challenge of Christmas as the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom into the world, once and for all. That’s why I love the fact that our secular New Year follows so closely on Christmas’ heels. Even if the incarnation of God in the man Jesus doesn’t snap our attention to the ever-beckoning future of God’s Kingdom, the New Year does, shaking us from our denial of the relentless passing of time. The New Year shouts the refrains all too often drowned out in the sentimentality of Christmas:  “Behold! I am making all things new! The old has gone; the new has come!” The future is here whether we like it or not. Will we embrace it? Or, will we try to stick our heads in the sand, preferring delusion and distraction to reality?

This is the flip side of the Advent coin: A couple of weeks ago, I wrote of the need to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, who always represents a judgment and a moment of truth. But if Advent calls us to ask “Are we ready?” Christmas challenges us to ask “What are we ready for?”’ and more importantly, “Am I willing to say ‘yes’ to it?” In a world so deeply entrenched in its habits, routines, and expectations, where it seems impossible to envision a different kind of life, Christmas and New Year’s alike call us to step bravely into God’s brave, new, topsy-turvy world — a world where the proud are scattered, the mighty put down from their thrones, the lowly are exalted, and the hungry filled with good things. It asks us whether we will, like Jonah, run away from the new life of forgiveness and mercy, or like Isaiah, who answered, “Here am I! Send me!” I for one, hope it’s the latter.

Christ is born. Glorify him!

2018 is dead. Long live 2019!

Bring it on!

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