Christmas comes to us with all the subtlety of a freight train—and like a freight train, our Christmases have it all. There is the unmistakable magic of the baby in a stable, stars and angels, shepherds and kings, miracle and mystery.
Then there is what many of us know as Christmas today, some of which we are sorely missing this year but which so strongly evoke “Christmas”: Christmas music blaring in the mall, cookies and sweets, fancy trees, showy lights, gaudy decorations, and frenzied parties.
Christmas is an impossible juxtaposition of burdensome expectations and fervent hope. Sometimes it feels like a tug-of-war between two competing world views, a surreal experience of two parallel universes.
I think that God would be amused at the world’s clumsy attempts to re-create outwardly the holy joy that we hold within us. I even think that God blesses our union of the profound and the tacky, the simple birth and extravagant gifts, our contemplative wonder and our raucous parties.
And why not? God is a God of paradox. God came to dwell with us in all the messiness and disarray of our daily life. Jesus’ birth was a mingling of the divine and the earthy, the lowly and the noble, situated in history but rooted in eternity. Is it any wonder that our Christmas celebrations are also steeped in paradox?
Jesus came to earth amid its chaos and transformed it. Our Christmas traditions seek to transform the everyday and to honor the gift of Christ to us. They are a heartfelt, if clumsy, sacramental offering of the world given back to God. They are a gift of abundance to the God of abundant joy.
In this light, we can forgive ourselves for our indulgence of joy in the name of Christ, whose birth we so piously and so riotously celebrate this month. For soon, the world will finally grow hushed as we sing “Silent Night,” in awe and wonder and love.
And for those driven crazy by the picture above of your next-door neighbor’s house, take heart in this one:
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