I never exactly hated Christmas. But back in college, I had a really hard time enjoying it. For a couple of reasons.
For one, I was disconnected from the traditions I had grown up with. I didn’t get to help set up our Christmas tree while watching the Ironman Triathlon on TV. (For some strange reason, the two events — the tree setting up and the airing of the Ironman — happened on the same day more than once while I was a child. Weird.)
And then there was the fact that I was studying like crazy until just a few days before Christmas. I just didn’t have the time to enjoy the season.
A lack of tradition and a lack of time would probably ruin anyone’s holiday spirit. But the kicker? It was about that same time that I started understanding just how commercialized Christmas had become. It had become all about big red bows on Lexuses (Lexi?) and kisses beginning with Kay. The season during which we celebrate the birth of our Lord had been co-opted by the Man. And I got cynical.
That cynicism persisted for a while — through college, and into my working-stiff years.
Last year, finally, my cynicism toward Christmas lifted. It didn’t happen all at once. But somehow, I quit worrying quite so much about the Man and how he’d co-opted Christmas, and Instead became entranced with the other Man, Christ, and the mystery of His incarnation.
Until last year, the mysteriousness of Christ’s birth wasn’t something I had thought much about, honestly. Maybe some of you who grew up going to church didn’t find the story of Christ’s birth so usual, but I sure did. I guess I mean that when you grow up talking about something, maybe you tend not to appreciate it — whatever it is — for the truly transcendent and amazing thing it is. Christ’s birth was like that for me. So very usual.
Until, like I said, last year. It must have been some articles I had read or something. I don’t entirely recall. Well, I do know one article in particular was pretty influential. It was one I edited on my job — “My Favorite Christmas Story,” by Jason Boyett.
The article really struck a chord. I had never heard Christ’s coming to earth described quite the way Jason described it. He made Christ’s incarnation sound to me so deliciously unusual. Maybe that’s because his “favorite Christmas story” turns out to be, quite interestingly, one of the Christ’s own parables. Jason explains:
If the incarnation is the story of God entering His creation — of God refusing to wait for us to come to Him and instead, demeaning Himself to come to us — then the story that best illustrates it is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Jason goes on to say that maybe the title we’ve given the parable is misleading — that maybe it’s less about a son who wastes his inheritance and drags his family’s name through the mud, and more about a good father who can’t wait for his son to return home:
Consider the father’s response when the son returned.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
I love the detail that the father saw the son “while he was still a long way off.” He hadn’t written the kid off as dead, as would have been expected. Nope, he was actually waiting for him to return. He was looking for him. And when he finally saw the prodigal, the dad leapt out of his rocking chair, stumbled down the porch steps and tore off down the road like a crazy person. The father took action. He went running toward the son who had so humiliated him. He didn’t care what it looked like, or what anyone else thought. He only cared about his child.
I like the vivid imagining of this so-normal parable. But here’s the clincher:
The father, of course — the crazy guy laughing and weeping and kicking up dust as he sprints down the road — is God.
That gets me EVERY TIME.
I’ll be honest: the image of God running toward humanity — toward me — seems almost too good to be true. But something inside me leaps at the thought of God caring so much that He would come running after me while I was still “a long way off.”
And that God would choose to approach us while we’re still a long way off by sending his Son to earth as a little baby? It just blows my mind. It’s so … so subversive. So mysterious. And so awesome.
Thankfully, subversive, mysterious and awesome is what the Christmas season is all about.
These days, I try not to get all hot and bothered by the materialism I see around Christmastime. I just don’t have the emotional bandwidth to worry about it.
Instead, I recall that a subversive, mysterious, awesome God sent his subversive, mysterious, awesome Son down to a fallen world in order to redeem it.
Now that’s something worth celebrating.
Have you ever struggled with the commercialism of Christmas? How did you deal with it?