My first year in "adulthood" has opened my eyes to just how thoroughly cultural Christmas is for us Americans. The lights, the music, the sweaters and scarves, the eggnog, parties, beautiful window displays, and endless decorations are all so deeply ingrained in our sense of identity that the month of December just wouldn't feel quite right without it all. A few of my friends were actually on a flight back from Somalia when they landed in an airport completely transformed by all things Christmas- and they started crying. The deep sense of comfort they felt at the first sign of "home" was overwhelming after being somewhere so foreign.
Then I realized how much of the "Christmas season" has become about just that- comfort. We just love to feel good about ourselves. Safe, warm, loved, and secure (I mean, I don't know about you but that's how I feel when I drink Starbucks Christmas blend!) There's sort of this "end of the movie" emphasis on Christmas- everything works out ok, Santa is real after all, and all we need is the "spirit of Christmas" to put a glossy finish over the pain in our lives- so our brokenness doesn't have to feel as broken. But lately I've been realizing that when we dig through the comfortable, cultural "glossiness" of Christmas, we find that it's not a Hallmark card type sentiment at the bottom of things; instead, it's the very thing we try to drown in cookies and milk- our brokenness.
Let me explain. A few weeks ago Michael's grandparents (and Texas natives!) had a really unique plant on their table. A hard, thorny plant with a tiny pink blossom emerging, I was immediately struck by it. They explained that it's called Christmas cactus because it only blooms this time of year. I thought, "what a perfect picture of Christmas." A hard, thorny world blooms with the inception of its only hope- God in human form. The good news of Christ is set in stark contrast to the bad news of our humanity. It's in this context of realizing our own pain, our own broken lives, that we can see and understand the weight of Christ's coming- it's the news of a hope that responds to our need, not that denies its existence! Remember the words from O Holy Night? "a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices" and "long lay the world, in sin and error pining....till HE appeared!" The spirit of Christmas is not that nothing is really wrong...it's that everything is wrong but there is hope! There is an answer, and His name is Jesus. "And His name shall be called Emmanuel- God with us."
The other thing the Christmas cactus reminded me of is myself. Because of Emmanuel, my own thorny heart has been made soft and the flower of Love has begun to grow. Along with the "weary world," my heart has recognized the coming of its King- and it has rejoiced!
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining!
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining-
till He appeared, and the soul felt His worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
till yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees- o hear the angels' voices.
O night divine, O night when Christ was born.