They say it comes with getting older. Children have a natural wonder at Christmastime, infused with the magic of Santa Claus, Christmas break, and the allure of Christmas music and presents. Children love Christmas. So why don't adults?
With absolutely zero expertise to back me up, I posit that adults hate Christmas because adults don't celebrate Christmas. Adults stress about out-gifting each other, money, time, parties, planning meals, and working overtime. We become frantic at midnight on Black Friday, and the chaos and running around don't stop until December 26th (or, for some of us, until after that last post-Christmas Christmas party). By Christmas Eve, our energies are spent and our wallets are exhausted. To add, we've probably eaten way too many cookies.
What was lost between childhood and adulthood? Where did Christmas go?
Friends, Christmas didn't go anywhere. We did.
But we can go back.
On December 24th, some 2,000-and-something years ago, a humble carpenter was leading a donkey on which his tender wife sat, as pregnant as she would ever be. They were concerned about money, and taxes, and not seeing their families for a long while. They hadn't had a moment's rest since they set out on their journey, and they were cold and tired.
Near the middle of the night, they finally came upon Bathlehem, where they were required to go by a government mandate. Their sighs of relief were short-lived, however, as they couldn't find a single place to stay; there was not even a spare room at the inn.
In the throes of exhaustion and desperation, our humble carpenter sets his sights on a stable built into a cave. He leads the donkey carrying his wife and unborn son inside, where he begins to unload whatever necessities they will use for the night. And just when he thinks they can finally rest, as fate would have it, his wife goes into labor.
Having just walked more miles than he can recall, leading an animal and worrying about his little family, the humble carpenter makes his young wife as comfortable as possible in a darkened cave lined with hay and dirt and animal feces, then gets down on his knees to help her deliver the Savior of the world.
But this Savior doesn't come with riches, or food, or a soft place to lay their heads; he doesn't even come with clothes for himself. His mother wraps him in her shawl. And now, faced with the added weight of an infant who poops and cries and needs to be fed and burped and held and hushed to sleep, suddenly, everything is right in the world.
In the distance an angel appears to shepherds tending their flocks -- to you and to me, busy with our lives and our jobs and our anxiety. "Fear not!" the angel beckons. "For to you this day in the city of David has been born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."
As if foreknowing our hectic schedules and restless nights, the angel doesn't add, "You will find a party with plenty of appetizers and a few movies for the kids to watch. BYOB." He doesn't say, "Each of you bring a gift at least $25 in value but not exceeding $30." He doesn't say, "Go over your list one last time."
He says, "You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothing, lying in a manger."
This is Christmas.
There isn't anything wrong in the slightest with our holiday traditions. Presents and lights and candy and family are all wonderful things. But without an understanding of why we celebrate the way we do, and who we are celebrating, they become not traditions but chores.
If you're tired, overworked, poor, and stressed for time this Christmas season, listen. Do you hear it? The heavenly hosts sent from heaven above to welcome God's own Son to the world he made. Can you smell the straw? Can you feel the dust? Do you see the small Light flickering in the darkness?
Bring your sighs to Mary, your work to Joseph, and lay them down before their Son.
If you can't feel Christmas, read the Bible. Read the prophecies of old, especially in Isaiah, and the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. Familiarize yourself with the desperation of Israel, and finally with the hope of the Messiah, who comes for you. To relieve you of your burdens. To save you from your sins. To spare you the agony of a monotonous, mundane existence and offers you instead a life worth living -- an abundant life, a participation in his own.
Listen to Christmas carols. Adults hate Christmas songs. We don't hear the words. Pray with the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, What Child Is This, and all the rest.
Simplify. Christmas is among the most extraordinary events in human history: God-made-man come down to earth. The King of Peace enters our world and sleeps. His earthly beginnings are simple. Christmas is extraordinary in part because our Savior proves himself simple.
Make your way back to the manger in Bethlehem. Brave the torrents of rejection, anxiety, and fear. Take your family to the cave; sit in the quiet and soak up the surprising reality of the Savior. A baby. In rags. In a barn. Asleep in a feed box.
Make time for peace this holiday season. Celebrate peace. Celebrate love. Celebrate Christmas.