Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reflections on the holidays....

I love Christmas!  I love the idea of Christmas, the anticipation, the decorations, the baking (and sharing), the gift giving, the holiday lights, the Christmas tree, the movies, the gathering of family and friends.  There are boxes and bows, St. Nicholas Day goodie bags, Christmas cards and letters, visits with family, friends and neighbors, Christmas concerts and special performances, and holiday recipes galore!   I'm one of those people that still believes in the Norman Rockwell Christmas ideal.  But, it seems that I chase after something that remains just out of reach...

And suddenly, in the midst of the season I find myself downcast, disappointed, and sometimes feeling really sad.  How can that be?  'Tis the season of merriment, hope  and GREAT JOY!  So what's the deal?  No matter how much I work at being organized, getting the Christmas cards and our annual letter ready early, sharing baked goods with our neighbors on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) and planning to keep our schedule relaxing and uncluttered ~ stress and feeling "let down" settles upon me, at some point, during the season.  I make the determination that I will find time to quiet myself and reflect on the Advent season and yet, here it is December 22nd and I didn't spend the time I desired.  In need of "Christmas spirit",  I decided Blaine and I should go to Snowflake Lane at Bellevue Square (a local mall) last night.  Upon arriving, I felt completely overwhelmed by the frenzy of people hustling and bustling in every direction and the stress of just trying to find a place to park...  I enjoy special Christmas performances, but this one left me feeling empty and blah.  It's now extremely loud and they've added to the original show to "up" its appeal to people ~ but to me, it was just NOISE.  And, people were pushing and impatient when the show finished so they could get back to shopping or pop into a coffee shop for a drink.  I tried to breathe calmly and keep my peace and focus and shut out the craziness around us, but the environment was too hectic and got to me.  I was done.  We left.  I felt flat and my Christmas "spirit" was sucked out of me.

Is Christmas just a commercial holiday?  Do people really care about the spirit of Christmas, spreading love and goodwill among men?    Is it just about lights and displays and finding that obligatory gift (at the best price) for a loved one?  Perhaps, it's scoring great deals on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.  Is it about having the best Christmas lights in the neighborhood?  Maybe it's having that traditional Christmas turkey or ham and all the trimmings...  Eggnog?  Or is it a Gingerbread latte or peppermint hot chocolate at your local Starbucks?  In Seattle, it seems to be the Christmas Tree Lighting at Westlake Center, the carousel and visiting Pike Place Market (that is beautifully decorated for the Christmas season).  If I keep searching, I'll figure it out one day ~ right?

Why does this happen every year?  Why do I always feel let down at Christmas?

Today, I found a blog that had a wonderful post that brought great insight.  Sharing it here.  Check out the blog, Intersect, by clicking on the title.

Beyond A Normal Rockwell Christmas

Norman Rockwell has a whole series of Christmas paintings that capture a nostalgic family feel. He paints pictures of happy families singing carols together, kids opening presents under a perfect Christmas tree, and Santa Claus coming to bring gifts. Rockwell’s paintings seem to capture the ideal that many people have for Christmas. Christmas, as one carol puts it, is supposed to be “the happiest season of all.”

Yet, if you find yourself going through a hard time this Christmas season, these expectations tend to make things worse. It is hard to be going through grief or hardship when the whole world seems to be saying we should be happy. When grief is juxtaposed with the expectation of happiness, it tends to deepen our grief.

The reality, however, is that the original Christmas belonged to those who were dealing with hardship. We have sentimentalized the nativity story, but the reality is that it has a radical message of hope for the poor. The nativity story is about God coming with good news for the down and out.

Mary is not a quiet, peaceful mother that basks in the glow of her newborn son. She is a feisty revolutionary who risks danger and even death to participate in Gods plan to overthrow tyranny and injustice. She sings of God, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).

The presence of the shepherds in the nativity scene would have been shocking to the ancient reader. Shepherds were low in social standing and were often thought to be thieves who were a drag on society. Yet, they are included for a reason. These outcasts and misfits were at the inauguration of the new king because this new king had come for people just like them!

Indeed, when the nativity story comes to an end and Jesus speaks for the first time he quotes Isaiah 61 saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Here Jesus indicates the purpose of his coming. Jesus came to us in order to bring good news for those who were dealing with hardship.

The Christmas season, then, is certainly a season of hope and joy. It is a season to celebrate. However, we celebrate a different, much deeper sort of joy then our culture has associated with Christmas. Christmas celebrates the type of joy that is found at the intersection of grief and grace. It is the joy that comes when we realize that there is hope even in the midst of the most difficult times. It is a joy that comes when we understand that Jesus is a savior who has come with good news for the poor.

So for those who are struggling this Christmas, don’t let our culture push you to the sidelines of the season. This season is meant for you! Christmas is a season of hope for the down and out.

And then, a friend posted this:

The spirit of Christmas needs to superseded by the Spirit of Christ. 
The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. 
The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. 
The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. 
That makes all the difference in the world.  – Stuart Briscoe

 Click on the photo to read a powerful Advent blog entry at Godspace. 

The greatest joy I've felt this season was attending the Christmas concert at a church our family used to attend.  It was a special evening of music and God's presence.  And more joy in seeing Father Paul and getting to chat with him when he came to pick up his monthly Azure order and watching my young cousins perform in A Charlie Brown Christmas play.

The more I let go of "plans", expectations, stressing over going to a restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve at 8:30 pm (when I think everyone should be with their families), worrying about what everyone will think of our non-traditional Christmas dinner, and focusing on Jesus instead of my "human concerns" ~ I am, once again, reminded that it's about my choices.  If I don't want the world overwhelming me or running me down during the Christmas season, I need to focus on the one thing I have control over; my attitude, my journey.  Why does my gaze wander from the Only Source that gives life?  Why do I so often look to the world, when the world has nothing to offer?  But God is faithful and He brings His Truth and His Love anew into my life and my hope is renewed and my JOY is restored.  We all have the ability to receive a gift that money cannot buy.  His name is Jesus.  And because of Him, there is much rejoicing to do in this Christmas season for our God is with us!

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Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! Abundant blessings on your day... Joanie