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I’ve heard a lot of talk about Christmas lately, and about how it needs saving.
Some of it is because of Kirk Cameron’s movie Saving Christmas, and the conversations it has generated about recovering Christmas joy.
Some of it is that it’s time for the annual panic about the so-called “War on Christmas.”
And most of it, I think, is because deep down a lot of us feel like we’re lacking something every year during the holidays. We know that we should feel some kind of joy, some kind of hopefulness, some expectation and wonder. And we don’t.
What we feel is stressed out.
And too busy.
And forgetful.
And sad.
And it seems wrong to feel all of those things while we’re singing about “tidings of comfort and joy.”
We think back to the joy we felt as kids on Christmas morning, and we long for it. We try to live vicariously through the joy of children. And, when that doesn’t fill the void, we try to place blame. Someone must have taken our joy away, and it’s up to us to reclaim it.
Or, we try to come up with a list of things we need to do in order to get Christmas back. We try to save Christmas, but what we’re really trying to do is reclaim the joy of Christmas inside our own hearts.
And so we blame other people for the way they address us in the grocery store.
We make longer to-do lists with more gifts to buy, more things to accomplish, and more parties to attend.
We make more crafts with our kids, bake more cookies, sing more songs, and go more places.
We try to recover our traditions and infuse new meaning into them.
And by we, I mean me.
But the emptiness persists.
For all my attempts at reclaiming Christmas joy, I have found that more often than not I have failed.
And I have come to believe that it is because Christmas does not need to be saved. What needs saving is me.
The way to reclaim joy has never been through adding more things to our lives. The way to experience longing and expectation has never been through busying ourselves even more.
If there’s one thing we should have learned from the example of Jesus, it’s that the way to fill emptiness is not through cramming more stuff into the open spaces.
Heaping more things onto the to-do list is precisely the way to deplete ourselves of whatever joy we might have left because joy doesn’t come from doing enough.
Joy is sitting with the emptiness long enough to realize that we already have enough.
Joy is learning to dwell with the discomfort of waiting, and finding that we are given precisely what we need when we need it. Joy is not something that can be purchased, or added into our lives by doing the right things; joy is something that simply is.
And, busying ourselves is the best way to miss out on joy, because joy comes not from adding, but from subtracting our own unrealistic expectations to make room for the abundance that can only come from God.
Anne Lamott once wrote, “I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play.”
In these weeks leading up to Christmas, I am giving up the struggle. I’m going to make an intentional effort to say “no” to the busyness in order to say “yes” to joy. I’m going to look to my children who model expectation and joy because their example is precisely what is meant by “and a little child shall lead them.”
I want to re-learn the truth that Christmas isn’t something for me to save. The miracle of Christmas is always there. I just need to have room for it.