I remember when I was a kid that the first day of December was a cause for celebration. Christmas was close! And two weeks off from school! A fine, soothing, warm feeling would come over me.
As the years have gone by, the holiday’s impact has changed. Family gradually spread all over the country, so the holidays meant seeing everyone again after months of being apart. So time off school and gifts under the tree gradually took a back seat to reuniting with loved ones.
Unfortunately, I’ve become increasingly cranky with the onset of age. Even scroogey. Christmas decorations crowd stores in October. Thanksgiving got swallowed by Black Friday. I can hear the damn Lexus Christmas jingle from a mile away. I mean, who buys someone a $50,000 car as a Christmas present, anyway? Oh, and the Radio Shack ad with computer beeps and boops designed to sound like a Christmas carol… please make it stop!
So I’ve found myself in this state where I’ve been pretty jaded toward this holiday, a fact makes me sad. It makes me try to find ways to dig a little deeper as to why Christmas should be important to me.
Like a lot of people, I’m Christian. Not your typical Christian, at least not these days. Sometimes I cuss. Sometimes I drink. I look back on some of the decisions I’ve made and just shake my head. But my roots remain. God is important to me. But He seems rather lost in the blitzkrieg of marketing that pounds me day and night starting sometime just before Halloween. There’s your real “war on Christmas.”
So to prevent me from going full-on Ebeneezer, I have to remember why the holiday is celebrated in the first place.
Before I go any further, please keep in mind that I’m no preacher or anything like that, and all I’m trying to explain is how I try to stay rooted during a time of year when it’s too easy to forget everything outside of our impulses to eat, drink, buy and consume at prodigious levels. So with that in mind, here’s my summary…
Christmas is about hope. The Bible tells about the coming of a unique being – all man, but also all divine, God incarnate. His mission in time included sharing very deep wisdom, but ultimately, Christ’s purpose on earth was to give Himself up, to the point of death, to absolve the world of all the awful things we do. One act, selflessly given, where He took the fall for us so we could have the opportunity to reconcile with the creator of the universe.
In short, we, the people of this earth, get a chance to start over with our lives.
Christmas is a celebration heralding Jesus’ arrival, and the hope that He brought with him.
Not Santa, not a Lexus with a giant red bow, not any of that.
There are times when the magnitude of this strikes me hard, and resonates deep within my soul. A lot of times, these epiphanies hit me when I’m outside, be it on a long run or a wilderness trek. These are the places where I see God.
In those times when I have questions, frustrations and anger, His words echo the handiwork of His deeds that I see:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” he asks Job many millennia ago, and asks me today. “Who determined its measurements – surely you must know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all of the sons of God shouted for joy?”
It’s a stern rebuke, but strangely, also a source of comfort.
About ten years ago, I did my first big alpine ascent. It was a 20-mile round trip hike to the top of Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest point. On a route that long, you get a lot of time to think. And so I did.
I pondered the magnificence of the mountains, and what they actually mean to the survival of life on earth. These towering sentinels act as nature’s water towers, massive stone reservoirs gathering and storing huge amounts of snow, ice and rain that are later released into the lowlands as streams, creeks, and then rivers. That water nourishes the earth and rejuvenates the oceans. And those oceans give birth to the storms that give us rain and snow, and the cycle continues its beautiful, life-giving dance that has carried on for eons. Without these huge piles of earth that thrust skyward from the ground, I have my doubts there would be any life on this planet at all.
When you think of the intricacies of that dynamic, you appreciate the engineering involved. My mind wandered further, contemplating the forces of nature involved in mountain building (tectonic movement, magma currents, magnetism, volcanism), and how the size of the earth, its proximity to the sun, and the fact that we’re orbiting a star of just the right size in a path that’s just the right distance, to perfectly encourage and sustain life.
So many factors, so many details, so many things just right for you and me to walk, breathe and live right this very moment. The incredible energy and power involved in these processes boggles the mind.
That said, we’re just talking about one solar system in a galaxy filled with billions more, in a universe packed with an untold number of equally huge galaxies.
We are taught there is a God who created all of this. And yet we are also told that the same being who did all that, who has that kind of power, also thinks of each of us in such a personal and loving way that He’d sacrifice so much (the arc of Jesus’ earthly life closes with his crucifixion, death and resurrection, lest we forget) just to bring us closer to Him.
When you contemplate that, with all of the struggles we face, that is a very hopeful message. And the Christmas story is one that epitomizes such a hope, that one so great and powerful is looking out for us.
I know many of you are not Christian. Some of you may not even believe in God at all, and you may be shaking your head at all of this. I understand.
But if you’re going to take anything away from this, at least recognize a few things.
First, recognize how fortunate we are to have this little ball of rock where we live, and be grateful for the beauty that it holds. Be grateful for a body that can explore it and enjoy its provisions. Be thankful for a mind that can ponder these facts, be inspired by what you see, and appreciate the good things that surround us.
Second, don’t be left out of the real Christmas spirit – that of hope. People like me find our hope in God and his love, and we try to emulate the examples given to us not only please God, but to make life better for the people around us. Others may find hope by alternate means. Regardless, it’s a profitable thing to dwell on those things that are good and right, and find your hope and inspiration to do right by your fellow man.
Lastly, there is a giving spirit at this time of year that partially stems from the story of the wise men’s gift to Jesus, as well Jesus’ gift to us. If nothing else, the spirit to give of ourselves is something we can all share in, and do so in a way that expresses the gratitude we have for the things given to us. That sort of good, when bestowed on others, counteracts the ill effects of our urge to spent copious amounts of cash on things. It gives us something different, something that’s less focused on stuff and more focused on that one life-giving human trait we cannot live without.