This year’s Christmas season – Advent season, to be exact – has been one of contradictions and struggles for me. I have preached about wading out of the shopping frenzy and embracing the humility and simplicity that we actually see in Christ’s birth. Still, I constantly find myself pressured to buy more, to spend more, to make my way back to the stores for yet another thing.
I am as astonished as the next person over the insanity that surrounds days like Black Friday. People fight one another for cheap electronics as if they were the starving grappling for bread. And yet, with gritted teeth, I march to the checkout aisle with my daughter’s Angry Birds Go! Jenga Knockout Game, while trying not to find out how much we spent on this year’s electric train for my son.
At the Plantation, I peered into stark wooden cabins and read about the gifts of fresh fruit that made joyous and welcome Christmas presents. It felt a bit like breathing clean air. I don’t mean to say that I wish for that lifestyle. Were time travel possible, I probably wouldn’t have to live long in a 1783 house – especially in the winter – before pining for the home I am in right now.
|My historian dad making friends with the plantation pigs.|
I am just reminded again of the thing that we always say but never seem to really believe:
that happiness doesn’t come from stuff. That in an era of low technology and few luxuries, children could be made just as happy with wooden toys as modern kids are with an electric “Racing Showdown” NASCAR games. The joy of gifts once came with the things that simply exceeded the norm, the indulgence compared to everyday life. We do ourselves no favors when we strive to set the bar ever higher, and there is a poverty that results from having so many things we can no longer be wide-eyed or experience awe.
How on earth did become this Christmas? How on earth did the humble birth of our savior become this carnival of acquiring? The wise men brought gifts to the Christ Child, but I doubt they put the same stress into their decision of gold, frankincense and myrrh that I did for the things I put under my tree. And while their gifts may have been genuine riches, they were also fitting for the occasion and significant. They are a far cry from the items I buy to fill up space in a stocking; things that will barely be noticed and will likely rest in a landfill sooner rather than later.
I suppose the reason we can call this madness “Christmas” is because this is why Christ came graciously among us; for our poor, pitiable longing for the things that will never satisfy us and for the struggle to keep our heads above the deep waters of expectation. When I step back and witness my own struggle to keep Christmas, I find myself often praying sincerely, “Lord, have mercy.” And the Lord does.
The mercy is the point. Though we can point to the first Christmas as a model for our own, Jesus came into the midst of people just as lost and as foolish as we are. Though they lacked cheap electronics to brawl over, like humanity throughout the ages, they found reason enough to fight and to frenzy. The insanity we witness today isn’t what Christmas became over the years, it is what it always has been. It is what we have always been.
The mercy of Christ, come in the midst of our grasping and our recklessness; this is the real meaning of Christmas.
So . . .
Lord, have mercy on me in my struggle to keep Christmas. May my desire to celebrate your birth in all its humility and austerity be counted, by your grace, as if I am really doing it well. And may the awareness of my own absurd response to your coming be the first step in creating a new and better way.
This I pray in the name of the Child who leads us in the way of humility and peace. Amen
The recipe below was given at the Cook’s House on the Antebellum Plantation. I haven’t tried making it yet, but I sampled these on site and they were very good!
1 cup dried apricots (any fruit will do)
1 ½ cups whole almonds (any nuts will do)
Chop all above . . .
2 tsp. ground cinnamon¾ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. anise
1 Tbsp ground ginger
½ tsp. vanilla
Combine above with next column . . .
½ cup confectioner’s sugar1/3 cup of honey
Pinch off into 1 inch lumps, roll into balls and coat with powdered sugar. Makes 30. Will keep for a week, or refrigerate for longer.