As a child, Christmas to me was pure magic. There was nothing like opening a million packages and the anticipation and joy of Christmas. As an adult, childhood seems a utopia of abundant living. What happens when Christmas does not feel magical? and joy is hard to find?
I grew up and lost the magic I found as a child. Much of the joy I’d remembered was centered on opening and receiving presents – things I’d waited all year to ask for and receive – many of which I no longer remember. It would be wrong for me to deny that this is a little of the reason Christmas began to seem less mysterious and wonderful to the adult version of me. Gone was the anticipation of something I’d waited all year to receive. Gone were things asked for and hope fulfilled. Adulthood meant the death of wonder, whimsy, and fun, and in it’s place was practicality in the form of cash, gift cards, and a pair of pants.
These feelings of longing proved that the thing Christmas most was to me was receiving gifts of toys, gadgets, and books. It was also about traditions and family. The loss of my dad, granny, and PaPa changed our traditions, and family celebrations halted or were no longer the same. The more I entered the adult world, the less I believed in the magic of Christmas. The less I believed in the magic, the more I sought the reason for the season – Jesus, a God turned baby-King and Savior.
What is more magical than a God who is all-knowing, all-present, and unbound by time placing Himself into the womb of a woman named Mary and wrapping Himself into the flesh of a baby? God becoming a man is the most magical thing I can imagine, and it is not a fairy tale – it really happened.
Every year, despite my best efforts, I find myself hating Christmas. It does not seem like the most wonderful time of the year. From the death of whimsy and tradition to the loss of family at the table plus the introduction of stress, responsibility, and the weight of life, I keep trying to recreate the joy of childhood by searching for thoughtful, meaningful, or fun gifts, which becomes a new burden and stress. I am not a wizard that can say a magic spell dispelling the magic of joy into wrapping paper or trees, but I secretly hope I am.
What I think I most need is the whimsy and wonder of a child – the child born in a manger in Bethlehem. Each Christmas He comes again, and I threaten to say, “no room here,” with my stress, busyness, and responsibility.
What would happen if I had the childish heart of Mary who simply said, “May it be to me as you have said?”
What if I noticed the light that appears brighter than all others and spent days seeking out the meaning of this light, like the wise magi of old?
What if, like the shepherds, I believed the angels declaration of great joy and began to look for Him in the simple, common, every day places – wrapped in cloths in a manger among the animals? What if I too could find him in the unlikely places of my common life? What if I were to bring praise instead of stress and busyness as my offering?
That becomes the problem – the idea that I should be happy and holy and focused on nothing but the joy of Christmas when in reality my heart is overwhelmed and empty. What does it look like to bring stress and busyness as my offering to the baby Jesus? What if, like the little drummer boy, I bring my poverty? I want to bring something greater like gold, incense, or myrrh, but what if instead of simply believing and bringing praise, I need the help of the manger-baby who knows what it is like to be empty, born among animals? What place do those who struggle to believe have in the Christmas story?
Maybe some of the magic of Christmas is that He accepts my weak and empty gifts and turns them into gold and praise upon my lips? Is this not the God we hope to worship – the God who brings beauty from ashes?
But perhaps there is some work for me to do too. I don’t often marvel in the miracle of the ordinary. I want my life to be full of grandeur and pomp and circumstance, so I miss the joy, deep abiding joy of the miracle and magic of God coming to me, coming to you.
When we got out the Christmas tree this year, my children began to decorate it. Watching the kids work happily made my heart swell with joy and happiness. Those are the moments that if I hurry, I miss.
I used to have a life philosophy, even as a Christian, that life sucked. It felt like all of life was out to get me. I was pessimistic and my hope was dead. I look around, and I see others who feel that way too. What if we were to open our heart each day with room for Him? Would we not become Abraham stars shining like that special star in Bethlehem guiding others to the baby Jesus over and over again? What glorious magic is this? God in flesh, God in man, God dwelling among us every day – eternity already here.
Daily allowing room for Jesus resurrects my hope. Even when Christmas gets busy, stressful, and threatens to snuff my light out, I return to the wonder of a God in babe and my heart wells up with praise, overflows with joy. Perhaps I don’t hate Christmas after all – only the lack of abundant living masquerading as more stuff.
The inn in my heart is open – sweet baby Jesus – won’t you fill it with joy?