The bar of expectation at Christmas is set high. “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know, where the tree tops glisten and Children listen to hear slay bells in the snow”. This is a lot to hope for. To wake up on Christmas morning knee deep in pure white snow, with the flakes falling past your window nestling on the trees creating a Christmas card like picture… and that our children will listen, even for slay bells. This is unlikely, all of it.
How often does it snow? Not often, especially not the good stuff you can make a snowman with or sled down a hill on. Plus we live near a power station that scares off the white stuff even when it does head our way (I think that’s what happens). And the notion that our kids will be so stilled by the Christmas magic as to listen, when we’ve hotwired them with sugar and tech that makes their heads fizz… no chance! But we dream of this, we search for this and we have a real good go at delivering it.
Pretty much every spare second in December is devoted to delivering the perfect Christmas. A tree that looks so Christmassy your neighbours drool as they walk past the house. A present wrapped so spectacularly festively it becomes intoxicating curiosity and must be opened. A table dressed so finely, a cracker so funny a pig so snuggly wrapped in a blanket your taste buds burst. We create a great Christmas.
But somewhere in the middle of this we can get a bit snow blind. Have you noticed this? In the middle of the consumer madness we always want more! It’s an odd human reality to face. We are surrounded by and have so much stuff. Car boots full of gifts and stores filled with Christmas sales loads of which will end up in land fill — that we as a nation should stop and marvel at how lucky we are. But often it just leaves us wanting more. The consumer Christmas keeps you looking up at what you don’t yet have.
Queen of the Jungle
I got lost in I’m a Celebrity again this year. Next year I’ll resist. I totally fell for the two finalists Andy Wyman and Jack Jossa. I love an underdog, a (so called) normal person who makes good. How much of a lift must it give you to have the whole nation (well 10 million) watching your every move for three weeks, seeing all your faults and bad habits then still vote you their favourite person. That sort of ego boost should last a lifetime right? Yet as they were awarded their prizes and status as well as kings / queens of the jungle, and as I wiped back tears of joy for their victory having invested heavily in their characters, both spoke of how ‘this was all they had wanted’ and of what it could mean for their twitter followings, “which were only 50 thousand” but might in future head towards the millions like Catlin Jenner! It was odd to see, in a moment so perfect so awesome that seemed to have everything they could want, they were still left looking up for what more they might get.
One of the interesting concepts the bible presents is its remedy for happiness and contentment. Firstly it’s not just about having stuff…
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. With me are riches and honour, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than fine gold” (Proverbs 8:17)
Money and possessions are good gifts too, real blessings to the world when used well, but they can trip you up, these were Solomon’s words after all. But it is in understanding and appreciating what you already have that real joy lies.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… (Philippians 4)
And the peace of God will be with you. The bible is always encouraging us to look at what we already have, what we have as humans living on this planet, what we have been given as God’s children. Jesus said you’ll be happiest if you live like this, “blessed are the humble, for they will be lifted up” (Matthew 5) And it’s not that you don’t look up anymore, of course you do but you’re so blown away by what you see when you look down that it just doesn’t matter as much.
Wise men know real treasure
The Christmas story is loaded with this thinking. The Wise men clearly had a bob or two, and in their meeting with Herod could well have made a bob or two more, but that’s not what happens in this story. They are more than happy with what they’ve found in Jesus and are happy enough to give their treasures away. Mary, it seems, loses everything, her reputation is gone, her security and safety are risked, she becomes a homeless refugee. Yet she looks at her lot and sings for joy at the role she gets to play in the birth of this baby.
“From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the mighty one has done great things to me” (Luke 1:48).
Simeon and Anna, who’ve spent their whole lives waiting at the temple in the hope of a messiah coming, do not see this as wasted time when they meet Jesus, but can look back at their years waiting with peace and satisfaction. (Luke 2:22–40)
There is a joy that comes with the Christmas story that doesn’t leave you looking up to see what it is that you might have missed, but gawping at what you have been given. Isaiah described the impact of our Christmas story like this…
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. At a really dark time light would come, and in the middle of this dark time some people get to see the light, and in seeing the light appreciate anew what they already have, the gift they’ve been given.
What is a perfect Christmas? What are you dreaming will happen? The bar is high? Somewhere in the chaos though is a timely reminder, a gift worth savouring that can shift our view and mean rather than just looking up for what we don’t have, we with those wise men and shepherds can take joy in what already came down, and leave us truly thankful for all that we have.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a gift is given.
Ash Gibson, Assistant Pastor, Christchurch Xscape