In the wee hours of December 25, my great aunt died. Christmas morning. For my great uncle’s sake, I would have been okay with delaying Christmas a day or two; maybe we should have all just fired up the phone tree and held off a little so he didn’t have to associate Christmas with his wife’s death.
I had already been secretly hoping for a delay the last couple weeks. It’s no secret that this blog has fallen quiet during my first semester as a “for real” teacher. I’ve been stupid tired, or busy, or both. Christmas gift buying/making was last minute even by my usual romcom-level standards. I was tired from work, and then had to work to remind myself it was Christmas. And I really hated that. I was genuinely sad about it. Christmas means a lot to me both personally and theologically. I love the uncompromising joy. I love the gentle defiance. The music. The festivities. Hope, peace, joy, and love in a world addicted to darkness. But my delay didn’t come. I woke up December 25th, and Christmas was here, and my great uncle’s wife was gone.
As I loitered in the lobby of the funeral home this afternoon, I found my gaze incessantly returning to a large, bright Christmas tree and its neighbor, a particularly ornate nativity scene. I wasn’t angered in grief by the presence of celebration; instead I felt puzzled by such joyous and carefully arranged items surrounded on all sides by rooms meant for preparing both the dead and the living for burial. But there, in a funeral home on December 29, I realized that’s how Christmas works.
Towards the end of a mostly meh episode of Family Guy, the Griffins are horrified to learn that Peter didn’t like The Godfather. When asked why, he simply responds, “It insists upon itself.” I’m still not entirely sure what that says about a movie, but Christmas insists upon itself. God doesn’t ask our permission in 2015 any more than He asked the world’s permission on the eve of Jesus’ birth. No matter our busyness, or distractions, or celebrations, or mournings, or the chains we wear or place on others, Christmas arrives with the quiet yet unmistakable insistence of a rising sun ruining the darkness.
A lot of things in or world, both in 2015 and the ancient Near East, try to insist upon themselves as well. When you find your eye drawn to these things, consider how much flailing and flapping they had to do in order to distract you. War sets fire to the good things it can’t possess like a spoiled child who just learned how to use a lighter. Emperors of all titles parade naked while their sad acolytes implore us to praise their purple robes. Talking heads and self-proclaimed leaders find new demographics to disregard from the podium and the pulpit. Death must lash out at our very bodies and loved ones in order to hold our gaze.
Not Christmas, though. Christmas, like the One it celebrates, just is. Stripped of all the added pageantry, it still is. A holiday devoted solely to the candle at midnight that begs to differ. The fire is sparked, the sun peaks over the horizon, the Son is born, our fallen world is re-inverted, and no amount of insistence can do a thing to stop it.
What are we to do as the unrelenting dawn advances? Join! Unlike the insistent and incessant noise around us, Christmas insists not for its own sake but for ours, and that is truly worth celebrating. You don’t even have to wait till next year to start. Christmas isn’t over until January 6; I’m not kidding, look it up. So leave those decorations out. Let that cherished Pandora station keep playing. Throw out a “Merry Christmas” at work or on social media. Throw one more party, maybe around Epiphany on January 6 or for friends you didn’t get to see back during the wild rush known to the world as Christmas but to the world as Advent. Do something so unselfish it’s confusing, the kind of thing that happens at Christmas in the movies. The darkness doesn’t want to admit its reign is over, so insist.