12.10.2008

May I Have Some Community With My Eggnog?

As the Christmas season washes upon us, waves of shiny green and red, gingerbread and warm fires, submerge us. Stores sell silk dresses, so pretty I have found myself tempted to plan a fancy party just so I can wear one! If we turn down the 32nd version of Baby It’s Cold Outside, we will hear a quieter chorus. This voice calls us back to the birth of a baby in a barn and a faithful teenage girl. Clearly, this Christmas season we have entered seems to split us into two groups: those who delight in the commercialism and social norms of the season (such as gift-buying, party-hosting, and card-sending) and others who feel that such activities detract from the meaning of the season, and ultimately, the heart of God.

Though some of the fanfare of the season is noisy and loud (and even profane), we who respond to its siren cry are drawn to it for a reason, signaling something more profound than the mere success of evil genius advertisers. Engaging the man-made season may seem shallow and misguided. It may distract us and leave us exhausted, but I believe we are seeking something deeper and more meaningful in the process.

As I hear the fringe pleading, a little bit louder this year, that we all just stop with the list-making and the party-going and the card-sending and focus on knowing God and loving our neighbor, I am beginning to wonder if by engaging these "distractions", we are trying to do just that.

I can see now that what people are really seeking during this season as they rush around buying gifts, attending parties, and spending the obligatory morning at the local soup kitchen is expressing love to others, participating in community, and serving the poor. Throughout the year, it can be difficult to find the context in which to pursue these things. Our schedules limit us, our wounds entangle us, and our selfishness isolates us.

Our culture is limiting as well. We who were born after the time of community barn raisings have become so self-sufficient that we no longer know how to love our neighbors; mostly because we have never met them. Dropping by a plate of cookies to unknown neighbors in the middle of July would make us feel weird. But anytime after Thanksgiving and before January first, we have the armor of “good tidings and cheer” to buffer all discomfort. But these are the things that God so desperately longs to see us do year round. And we long to do them year round, because regardless of where we think they come from, we have a set of internal desires (though sometimes quite faint) that God infused in us upon our creation.

People gladly pursue their God-given desires when they see the opportunity. For example, in March of 2003, my home of Denver, CO experienced a snow that kept the city stranded inside for three days. The day after the snow stopped, I noticed something different at my neighborhood library. It was noisy. People were smiling. And TALKING to one another – to strangers! People swapped stories about how much snow we got and what they did while trapped inside. It was something that, though unusual, seemed to come so easy and natural. By God’s design, we long to connect with each other. Sometimes, we just need a reason.

It is with this perspective, that I believe our culture has created noisy celebration around Christmas – that we might have a reason to connect with our community - and to pursue a Savior we long to know, but whom we don’t know how to engage. It is my hope that in the year to come, we will explore ways to engage the heart of Christmas on a daily basis. Perhaps next December we find that we have a slower, quieter approach to the month, because we sought the heart of Christmas all year.

WHAT ARE WE LOOKING FOR?

Parties:
We are desperate to connect with others. The way we wait for those invites to roll in, need the season to throw a party, and do our best to attend them all, begs the question, do we really know how to engage community on our own? Let’s practice daily building the kinds of relationships we long for.

Gift Giving:
Our loved ones want to know that we care about them, and most of us want to express our care. But what are we doing to show we care year round? And if we don’t actually care, our energy would be better spent mending the relationships and creating an actual depth of love, rather than the illusion of love through the gifting of an electric razor or tea cozy.

General Merriment:
We go crazy over lights and music and festive clothes. We want a sense of celebration and possibility that is infused into the rest of the year by having spontaneous family dance parties after dinner, using the good china on a Tuesday, and creating a sense of magic for a stranger by surprising them with acts of unbelievable kindness and grace.

Creating a Mood:
The desire to decorate our homes for the holidays and make intricate cards is a reflection of our inclination to create. As He created us, so too do we have an inherent drive to create. What can we give up in this New Year to make time in our lives to create on a regular basis?

Christmas Music:
The language in these traditional holiday tunes highlights some of our longings for the things of God. Can you imagine how our day-to-day experience would change if we meditated on words like “joy”, “cheer”, and “comfort” year round?


Christmas pandemonium does not have to be the devil’s playground if we can learn to appreciate it for what it really is – a reflection that our deepest needs and longings are unquenched. This season can serve us like pain we experience when we accidentally touch a hot burner on the stove – it does not feel good, but without the pain, we would not know to move our hand away from the hot coil to safety. In this way, let us recognize that the extreme engagement we observe in this season is simply the heart’s cry to live out Christmas year round.

4 Comments:

Blogger cara harjes said...

...

6:10 PM, December 10, 2008  
Blogger Kelly said...

brilliant. well said, friend. and as one who has wanted to snuff all the craziness and commercialism, i am forced to reconsider with your words.

1:27 AM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger travis said...

Brilliant post with dashes of divine insight. Tastes like the beginning of a short book. ???
Go for it- write a book!

1:34 PM, December 16, 2008  
Blogger Rhi said...

definitely write a book.
or a zine, heh heh heh.

1:52 AM, December 21, 2008  

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