AN ENCOURAGING WORD written for publication in the Monroe Journal, December 13, 2012, by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, First United Methodist Church, Monroeville, Alabama
The Christmas season is a cheerful time for most people, but there are frustrations. Even people who tend to keep life manageable occasionally encounter some unsettling and frustrating experiences in the hustle and bustle of the season.
There are people for whom Christmas provokes deep feelings of sadness. It is a time for remembering, and not all our Christmas memories are happy. For some it is the first Christmas after a sad experience -- death of a loved one, a divorce, etc. When you are expected to look and act happy, but you are sad, it is easy to forget the reason for the season, and pray it will soon be over.
I could offer tons of conventional advice on how to keep meaning in the season. I am a professional at offering conventional advice about many things, but after more than a half-hundred years in an advisory capacity, I have come to the conclusion that most people already know more conventional wisdom than they care to use, and that most people for whom Christmas is an unhappy time can find someone to help them through, if they are interested in help. But let's face it, there are people who actually enjoy being unhappy. Their lives and their relationships are defined by their negative view of life. Don't try to cure their condition. You will end up being caught up in it. Just avoid them, if you can.
When money is limited and demands (or perceived demands) are unlimited, it is frustrating. When you feel obligated to match gift for gift. dinner for dinner, Christmas card for Christmas card -- when you feel compelled to attend and give so many parties, when you focus on the business of Christmas, it is easy to lose sight of the heart of Christmas. And if we are not careful the glitter, the gifts, the food, the parties, and the over-the-top commercialization of Christmas will leave us physically tired, spiritually empty, emotionally over-spent, and perhaps financially broke. It is a sad critique of the holiday set aside to honor one who taught us of love, peace, and kindness.
When you become stressed out humor helps, and there is always humor to be found as children begin to sense some suspicious inconsistancies in the Santa Claus myth. One child climbed up on the lap of Santa Claus at a department store and shared his wish list. Later that day, in another store, there was Santa again, who when he saw this child said, "Ho, ho, ho, what would you like for Christmas this year?" With a puzzled and suspicious look on his face the child admonished Santa, "You really need to write these things down!" When my grand neice, Callie, was about 8 years old her parents gave in to her barrage of suspicious questions and confessed to her the truth about Santa Claus. This bright and perceptive little girl then asked her parents: "What else have you been lying to me about?" The weak effort to continue the myth beyond credulity can be humorous. A father said to his young daughter, "Look at all the presents Santa left for you!", to which the child replied, "Dad, this looks like your handwriting". Dad said, "Well, I let him borrow my pen". Daughter pushed on, "That wouldn't change his handwriting". "Well" said Dad "we also had a couple of glasses of wine together" Look for the humor as well as the holiness in Christmas.
There was a mother who was Christmas shopping with her two young children. After three hours of looking at row after row of toys and hearing them ask for everything they saw on those shelves, she was feeling the overwhelming pressure that so many feel during the holiday season. She was relieved when she finally made it to the elevator.
When the elevator doors opened there was already a crowd in the car. Determined to get out of the department store as soon as possible, she pushed her way into the crowded car, dragging her two kids and her packages with her. When the doors closed she couldn't take it anymore. She blurted out in an angry voice, "Whoever started this whole Christmas business should be found, strung up and shot!"
From the back of the elevator a quiet and calm voice responded, "Don't worry, we have already crucified him".
The rest of the trip down the elevator was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. Hmmmmmm