As a child, the day after Christmas was genuinely depressing. All the joys of getting and giving were gone for another year. Most light displays remain dark yet still arrayed. Growing up in the Deep South, we lacked even the slightest chance for the magic of snow to lift our moods; instead the outdoors tended to be wet and brown, with a few stubborn greens intermingled. The distracting yet oddly exhilarating rush in the final days before Christmas is replaced with the stifling stillness of a holiday hangover. The hymns and joy have evaporated into the memories from whence they came, replaced by a melancholy silence, engulfing the discarded wrapping paper, abandoned decorations, and now stale cookie trays to tell us to go about our lives, for Christmas is gone.
I can’t help but wonder if the very first Christmas felt a lot like that. The rush of getting a very pregnant Mary inside was over. The angels had retreated, their song ended. All the cute barn animals we like to include in our felt nativity scenes needed to be fed. The shepherds inevitably returned to their flocks, sitting out on the hills for another night. Distanced from clean, polite society, they likely watched the sky grow dark the next night, wondering in vain if the night would explode again in glory. The new parents, Mary and Joseph, were left to clean baby poop.
The ancient world went about its business, blissfully unaware of the joy and pain the little baby in their midst would soon bring them. Buying, selling, living, dying, toiling on as it had always been. Pain, slavery, misogyny, abuse, and war continued to stake their claim to humanity and the earth. All the while, though they didn’t yet understand, a few knew the truth: God was telling another story, a story of redemption and reconciliation. As the drum of death beat on, a Jewish boy was born to look it in the face and humbly yet strongly proclaim, “No.”
And maybe that’s still how Christmas is. Once the day is over, the world tells us to keep moving, to get on with “just how things are.” Ebola in West Africa, the violence of ISIS, growing animosity between police and the people they are charged to protect, continuing racial strife and oppression, society-destroying greed disguised as ambition and business, slavery, misogyny, war and rumor of war beat on. The world doesn’t have a problem with taking a break to sing and wrap some presents, but our ideals better not get in the way of business as usual, whether we’re objecting to a business decision or protesting death on a busy Christmas shopping day. We, however, have been called to something else. As the world tells us to accept a narrative of destruction needed to keep the world going, God is still telling a different story. A story of redemption and reconciliation, of giving to people who the world says don’t deserve it, of loving enemies, of ending violence and oppression even when the system is convenient. And we’re invited to join.
I’m not worried about non-Christians who don’t “keep Christ in Christmas.” There’s nothing offensive or shocking about someone not celebrating a holiday and story in which they don’t believe. I’m worried about Christians who don’t keep Him in the other 364 days of the year. We celebrate Christmas like saints, but toss aside the Christmas spirit on midnight with everyone else. We fail to remember the hope, joy, peace, and love, the Christmas spirit, is the Holy Spirit. I know it’s easy to fall back into our lives. The rush of life keeps us from noticing the fallen around us. Anxiety feeds on our joy (even today I’ve caught myself thinking about things I need to do back in Waco). The advent of the humble King of all Kings, quiet and calm, seems to do little to stem the flood of bad news, then or now. But more people keep remembering to tell the story with their own lives. If you’re struggling with fear or anxiety, overwhelmed by the world’s violence, or just simply don’t know what to do with it all, I hope you’ll take the time in the coming days to think about God’s own Son born away from splendor and attended by lowly shepherds. Remember that He came for you and all of us, and our world changed forever with His birth. And even after the last Christmas lights go out, I hope you’ll join Jesus as he looks at the darkness all around us and humbly yet strongly proclaim, “No.”