I may be a pastor but I confess–I hate Christmas. Ok, hate is too harsh.

I really dislike Christmas.

Why? Here are some reasons, maybe you’ll resonate with a few.

A combination of bad experiences and my love/hate relationship with capitalism makes me withdraw from festivities. Christmas also carries a faith component that I also have difficulty balancing. Mix it all together and you get a mess.

What about you?

It seems every year the mind numbing Xmas carols go up in the malls a bit earlier. For me December 24th is too early for the monotonous chimes. (The only ones I can stomach are Charlie Brown versions, here, play it while you read on….)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw6h4mZO1oU]

Christmas isn’t just the 25th but the chaotic dance that leads up for months to the ‘big day’.

It’s that chaos that bankrupts (literally and spiritually) a few, and crushes expectations for a few more.

I fear we’ve built up an occasion that does more harm than good.

Anybody ever have a bad Christmas experience? If you have the moment/drama likely featured around one of two things: relationships or gifts.

For example, ask any kid under 18 (and many over) what Christmas is about and the #1 answer is unequivocally: gifts.

Material incentive is the single most memorable item growing up. Mom or dad go the extra mile, along with the illusion of a fake entity called Santa, to deliver the goods.

Secret santas, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, siblings, boss, teachers, spouses, cousins, friends, etc., etc., etc. What we build into our kids is something we later adopt: a culture of indulgence where increase equates to temporal joy.

Why does our idea of a successful Christmas revolve around so much around the stuff we receive? This idea might actually work out if it weren’t for one problem: material goods are fleeting and incapable of ultimately fulfilling us.

Not that gifts are bad, but we’ve turned gift giving into and exercise of gift buying.

The Xmas run up also creates expectations–difficult unwritten rules of the holidays that dictate whom people are to see, how people are to act (unusually nice), give (unusually high), buy (unusually excessive), eat (see buy), etc. [you fill in the blank]. The routine can become overwhelming to the point people begin to crack.

Every been unduly stressed around the holidays?

We try very hard to meet the expectations of creating endearing and enduring memories but sometimes they end up in complete or partial failure. Has that ever happened to you? If it has then you know, we don’t just get hurt feelings, but a piece of our heart is chipped away–a memory is banked for life that comes back to haunt every year around Dec. 25.

As a result many of us at Xmas carry a crushing sentiment of

emptiness

         brokenness

                 and despair

This doesn’t sound like Christmas to me. This sounds costly in both the physical and material sense.

If that’s you then I don’t blame you if you forgo festivities rather than risk being ruined by failing to meet ‘Christmas expectations’.

But I think Christmas can (and is) be redeemed.

Christians, by the way, are no different than anybody else at Christmas other than they may go to church and may talk about baby Jesus. Otherwise we’re probably the biggest additions to consumptive power.

What I propose is an attempt to recapture what’s been lost from our faith and our communities.

Here’s the irony.

Christmas IS about expectation, but it’s NOT the kind that leaves despair.

Christmas is the cataclysmic expectation of renewed hope.

Christmas is …

…the culmination of biblical prophesies and promises, at the same time there’s a raw humanity to it all: a teenage girl is expecting – morning sickness, cramps, unreasonable cravings. Her much older fiancee is trying to figure out ways to get rid of her and save face. Within all of this mess an expectation emerges that points to a renewed hope for the world. As Mary and Joseph sneak into Bethlehem under the stars, there Jesus smuggles himself into humanity…

I can get excited about this.

Why?

The heart of Christmas is rooted in the very essence of who God is: a loving God who reached into the history of humanity to inaugurate an age where all of the wrongs would start to turn right. (By the way, this is orthodox Christianity, our hope is rooted in the ultimate time when ALL wrongs are turned right, it’s God’s ultimate dream.)

God’s dream crashes into our human existence with the manger scene and expands into the hope that Jesus brings to the world.

God’s dream is our dream thus Christmas is unequivocally the catalyst for response.

Christmas is picking up where Christ left off–pointing our friends, our community, our world, in a different direction, one that embraces change, sticks up for the little guy, serves the oppressed, engages in justice, withdraws from injustice.

Christmas isn’t about family, but maybe your family can combine to take care of the least among us.

Christmas is definitely not about gifts or materialism, but maybe you can give your $$$ and time to those in need.

Christmas shouldn’t leave you in despair from unruly expectations, but maybe you can draw into someone who’s broken around this time of year and bring them joy through love.

Wait, what was that?

Love.

Christmas is picking up where our Saviour left off; we can preview the hope that is to come tomorrow and eternally.

If you don’t believe you should respond in this way that’s fine. I simply think there’s more to be had.

I’m easily excited to hear stories about the many people who are deeply committed to bringing joy to others outside their gift giving circle. A special Christmas blessing to you!

But I can quickly and permanently discard the rest.

You?