Have Yourself a Messy Christmas

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. Usually by now, our tree is up, the house is decorated, and I’m starting to wonder whether the stash of gingerbread cookies in the freezer will actually last until Christmas. And if you have an aversion to Christmas music before December, you’ll want to give our house a wide berth. Yup. We’re those people.

For various reasons, though, I’m finding it all hollow this year. Maybe you are, too. The headlines certainly give us plenty of reason to feel like maybe we want to give Christmas a pass instead of trying to dredge up “Christmas spirit”, especially if you’ve been directly affected. Another year of COVID, with fears and tensions escalating and dividing us. Grief over the legacy of residential schools, as more and more bodies of children are located reminding us of what they and many survivors endured. Feelings of helplessness over escalating inflation, depression, anxiety and drug overdoses. A summer of wildfires and now weeks of flooding with more storms to come. And that’s just the local news. Or maybe it’s things that don’t make the headlines – illness, loss of loved ones, broken relationships, job loss, loneliness. So many people hurting.

Our world is a mess. Honestly, if Christmas were just about Santa Claus and presents under the tree, of decorations and picture-perfect families - if Christmas were rooted only in vague hopes for peace on earth and faith in human potential to make a better world through our own good will - I’d be sorely tempted to chuck it.

But the mess we’re in has reminded me that the way we tend to celebrate Christmas is totally backwards. From the time Christmas decorations start showing up in stores – usually well before Halloween – we get to work fabricating the perfect holiday, trying to wring as much festivity out of the season as we possibly can. And truly, I’m not averse to the gatherings and dinners, music, visits, decorations and traditions. I love them. But if that’s where my focus lies, I often feel like I’m just skating across the surface of Christmas. The day itself is an anticlimax, and then it just peters out until I finally summon up the oomph to take down the tree. It’s like, instead of keeping Advent and then truly celebrating Christmas, I’m trying to stretch Christmas out into a month and a half, only to find it stretched very, very thin.

This year, I’m reminded that Advent is about anticipation. It can be a joyful anticipation, but it can also feel a lot more like longing. This year, I’m longing. Hard. And here’s the good news. Our messy, broken world doesn’t put the lie to Christmas. It actually sharpens our focus and gives depth to our celebration. It reminds us of the messy world that God stepped into in the flesh, to walk with us and be fully one of us even as he was fully himself. The brokenness around us and within us reminds us how very desperately we needed him to do that.

That is what Christmas celebrates. It celebrates peace on Earth – not that we have the power to achieve that ourselves, but that peace came as the Prince of Peace who entered our world; who made the way for us to be reconciled to God and who is the foundation for true peace with one another. It celebrates God keeping his promise to come to us and make a way back to relationship with him. It anticipates the fulfillment of his promise to come again. Christmas celebrates the light that is Jesus, entering our dark world, and invites us to recommit to sharing that light with the world around us. Christmas – even if it isn’t picture perfect – can be celebrated even in the middle of the mess because even at its very best and brightest, it’s only a shadow of the celebration to come that Jesus offers.

Do you – like I do – feel mired in the mess this year? If you do, that’s okay, because maybe it means you’re closer to the heart of Christmas than you think. Maybe this Advent, decide to embrace a messy Christmas instead of a superficially merry one. Instead of trying to hard to grab at strands of “Christmas spirit”, lean in to your longings and let the Prince of Peace step into your world anew and meet you there.