Earlier tonight I attended the annual Seaford Christmas Tree lighting. Or should I say the Holiday tree lighting. Because although we were all there to see a Christmas tree, and we were all there signing Christmas carols, in anticipation of Christmas, the word Christmas was not be see or heard. The hallowed word which evokes the ancient joy of the birth of the messiah is now a politically incorrect word which evokes maybe a slight sentimental value in the heart. Yet there we were sipping hot chocolate basking in the glow of the ‘holiday’ lights. Everyone seemed happy and joyful. Laughter filled the air and the sweet smell of holiday cookies seemed to float around like a mist throughout the little holiday village. Families gathered and children played while then adults spoke of work, weather and the traffic that was building by the second. I was miserable. A big bundle of bitterness and irritation smack dab in the middle of a smiling holiday crowd. I asked my wife why were we here. All I got in return was a puzzled look followed by a tender smile. I know that smile. It’s the one she gives me when she can tell my brain is working in overdrive. She knows me so well. My brain was overheating, but more importantly my heart was slightly broken. I was hurt by this display of holiday joy that really had nothing to do with Christmas. What were we celebrating tonight? What happened to Christmas?
A couple of years ago country singer Faith Hill sang:
“Where are you Christmas
Why can't I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can't I hear music play”
When I first heard that song I remember feeling pity for anyone who would feel that way. But the more I listened to my own heart I realized I feel this way too. Christmas had lost some of its magic, some of its appeal and joy. The further I searched my heart the more I sympathized with the words of this song. Why had Christmas and all its captivating charm hidden itself from me? I asked myself these questions and came up with some interesting observations. Christmas hadn’t changed. It is same as I remember. Lights and music, hot cocoa and warm cookies; candy canes and stockings, Rudolph and his reindeer games. And of course the big guy, Santa. He was still squeezing down chimneys and checking his list. What then had happened? In desperation for an answer I kept reading these lyrics and found the problem. Christmas hadn’t stopped bringing laughter to children. Our worldly version of the holiday brings plenty of joy and laughter. But laughter was not what I needed. I needed a savior. I needed Jesus. I realized right there the only way I could reclaim the magic of Christmas was to find out the true meaning of Christmas.
Nobody really sees Santa as a thief and he is not, but he has stolen something from us, and if we wish to learn what Christmas really is, we must reclaim that treasure from the jolly old elf that lives on the North Pole. I do not believe it was intentional. I really think it just got out of control; this whole idea of Santa and Christmas. I was a believer when I was younger. Christmas was the pinnacle of the year. It was the source and summit of my life. I waited all year for it; my behavior was influenced by the threats of, “Santa’s watching you!” As November drew near and the Thanksgiving Day parade was marching down 5th Avenue, I was especially conscious of my lying, temper and so on. But through all this was I really looking forward to Christmas? Was my good behavior and kind deeds a preparation to receive the Infant Jesus into my heart at Christmas or was all my ‘Christmas spirit’ just an empty longing to receive the latest video game and hottest toy I could convince Good Ole’ St. Nick to bring for me? Christmas was not about God and His gift to us but rather had become about me and what I could get from it. This was not something I learned on my own. It was taught to me by my parents and reinforced by the culture and every other adult and child I came in contact with. It is a cultural lie that although innocent, robs our youth and we adults, of the true meaning of Christmas.
Lest you think I hate Santa Claus, I will say outright that I think the idea of Santa is fine. After all he is based on our Dear Saint Nicholas of Myra. But is everything I said above not right? Does it not strike a cord within our hearts? I firmly believe that the bitterness and indifference and even emptiness towards Christmas could be traced back to the deception surrounding it. If we, as children, place all our hope in this holiday only to have it go up in smoke at whatever age it can damage our perception of it. For 8-10 years we ‘worship’ the idea of Santa, then we find out usually by the very people who kept the charade up, that it is all a lie; an innocent lie maybe, a lie meant to give us a magical feeling, but a lie nonetheless. All we know about Christmas is a falsehood. But the Good news of the Gospel is that “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, so that anyone who believes in him shall have eternal life.” This is the mystery of Christmas, the great mystery that seems to be passed over in favor of a flying fat man. To find Christmas, we need not search too far, just look into our heart to see the love with which we were created. The child within us is the surest way to see the Christ child at Christmas. On the way to Bethlehem we are seeing many advertisements and billboards which would have us believe that Christmas is a myth, a joke, a hoax. Is it? Is Christmas irrelevant?
The people who have lived in darkness have seen a great light.
We live in darkness only if we refuse to let the light in. The Christ child in innocence and love looks at you. He smiles and coos. He reaches out his arms to enter into an embrace with you. Pick him up, hold him, gently rock him as you sing a hymn of thanksgiving for his love. The true meaning of Christmas does not end with childhood, it reaffirms the very meaning of Childhood, for only as a child, humble, accepting, loving, trusting and faithful can we accept into our hearts the Child-God Jesus, and in doing so, in a very real way, enter into the authentic spirit of Christmas, Love, eternal love of a God for his children. Finding Christmas is not at all about searching for lost laughter and fun, its about embracing the truth of love and discovering deep in our hearts the manger which was created to hold the infant God who, on Christmas, will be entrusted to us once again, by our Heavenly Father. Can we accept that gift?