It can be easy to get a cynical around Christmastime. The commercialism and the schedule can get overwhelming. And there's the fretting over purchasing just the right gift - both for those you love and for those you're obligated to be kind to; purchasing with either money you don't have, or money you shouldn't be spending, or spending more than you ought. And then there's the nostalgic whiff of Christmas you are hoping to capture at some random moment during the holidays, a moment that is almost grasped, and then its gone. Oh, and don't forget the painful memories that regularly emerge in your mind during this season...
Is there a better alternative than becoming cynical or overwhelmed at Christmastime? Yes. It's way better to keep choosing joy and gratitude. Obviously. Yet, strangely, too many of us don't...
When Paul writes his friends in Colosse - families and neighbors who knew what it meant to be overwhelmed, to be cynical, to be grasping... - Paul writes out his prayer for them: that they would have great joy and much gratitude. Here, read it for yourself:
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you... giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
We may not identify too well with talk about kingdoms and kings, but we can relate to the ideas of light and darkness, or rescue and redemption, of love and forgiveness. We may not think much about it, but we do sing about a newborn King quite often. Interestingly, it may help to recall the Jesus we sing about at Christmastime. Maybe you didn't know this: Jesus came as the Jewish King, Israel’s Chosen One, God’s Anointed to deliver His People from the Dominion of Darkness. He did. And He still does.
Jesus came as the newborn King of Israel at a very dark hour in world history. And though the night sky was briefly alight with angel-glory, Jesus through the long decades was just one tiny light of love and rescue in his world. But then, one by one, more lives became lit by the same kind of forgiveness and peace, and the vision expanded for what people could see and become.
One light at a time... you may not think it makes that big of a difference whether you choose joy or gratitude. But you may also have no idea how many people NEED you or desperately WANT you to make that choice. Once you make that radical choice, once your life is lit up, you begin to see the other lives lit up by the Spirit of Christ, masses of individuals who, when gathered together, illuminate the world in a new and beautiful way.
"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
Linus quotes Luke, who quotes the angel-army: peace on earth, goodwill to men; Christ the Lord, our Saviour is born in a barn. Do you need rescued? Is it dark in that hole you're stuck in? Do you know anybody who needs rescued? Do you fear to forgive? Do you recoil from redeeming others, of setting them free from what enslaves them? Do you want to live in the Spirit of Christ? Masses of people are in need of Christ-ones to come be light, come and rescue, come and bring peace. Let it start with you, in your heart, in your home, in your world, in your Christmas.
When is your Christmas tree the most beautiful? When is it best to drive through the neighborhood gazing at the decorated homes and trees? At night, when it is dark. When is the best time to choose joy and gratitude? Yeah... you guessed it: when it is darkest. The choice to give thanks and be joy-full when you feel crushed or confused, exhausted or in a hole - that is what fuels the light of Christmas, it's what other people need to see. Too many people are only thankful when the going is good. Too many people will only be happy at Christmas when everything goes their way. Good luck with that.
Choose joy instead of cynicism, choose being grateful instead of being overwhelmed. It'll make you stand out like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It's what the world needs now...