Many of my friends have heard me utter a strong comment during the Advent season. As a pastor, I generally found that the Christmas season was overstuffed with special church activities, extra worship events as well as events not directly connected with the church. As he season began, I would begin to mutter, “I hate religious holidays”. By the end of the season, I was generally too tired to do more than moan, “I hate religious holidays”.
Christians are often caught in a double celebration–our churches are busier at this time of the year and our culture makes significant demands as well. And because we live in both the Christian and the cultural world, we find it hard to ignore either side. Certainly, there are some believers who choose to ignore the whole secular side of the season but many of us find that hard to do because of the fact that some of the events are fun and provide a chance for families and friends to have time together. It is also hard to ignore church events because of the subtle and not so subtle pressures that make attendance necessary to at least some of the events.
But the end result is that Christmas passes in a blur of activity and eating leaving us a bit heavier, worn out, poorer and perhaps a bit depressed. We try to do it all and end up feeling like we might have missed it somewhere along the line, although we might have trouble defining what the “it” was that we missed.
Maybe we need to look at the season differently. We tend to see it as a series of obligations, things we are required to do because of church, family and cultural reasons. But we are beings created with the freedom to think and make decisions. We let ourselves get carried away by the cultural peer pressure of the season–but we don’t have to let that happen. Rather than approach the season as a time of rushing as we try to keep up with everyone else, we can take the time to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it and chose to do Christmas in a way that will be meaningful to us.
You see, the fact that we have freedom to think and make decisions means that in the end, we will do what we choose to do–no one puts a gun to our heads to make us overeat at Christmas dinner. We may feel forced but that is probably because we haven’t allowed ourselves the freedom to look at ourselves and the situation and our motivations. We are still choosing but making the choice on the basis of things we aren’t conscious of.
We can have a better Christmas if we take control of it in our minds. I think of it as budgeting for Christmas, or any other event for that matter. We look first at what we really want to get out of our Christmas celebration. Then, we look at how much money, physical and spiritual energy, time, and waistline expansion room we have in available in our lives to give to getting what we want out of Christmas.
On the basis of that, we begin making decisions that keep us within budget while allowing us to enjoy the season as much as possible. We don’t need to spend too much for presents; we don’t need to go to every party; we don’t need to eat everything we see; we don’t even need to go to every church event. I realize that this sounds a lot like the kind of calculation Spock from Star Trek might advise but maybe the antidote to the emotional binging at Christmas is a bit of logic.
My guess is that is we think a bit more about what we need and want and plan to do, several things will happen. Some people will think we are strange. We will miss some events. We will spend less. But we will also do more that we want to do; spend time on things that we want to spend time on; have more joy in the process and discover more of the presence of God in our Christmas.
God has gifted us with the gift of freedom and the ability to make choices–and when we use the gifts that God has given us wisely, things are always better.
May the peace of God be with you.