…that’s what I was shouting as I tried to untangle a string of mini lights this past Monday. Charlotte and I had set aside that day to do some Christmas decorating and my freezing fingers contrasted with my soon-to-boil over frustration. “Mini lights! The curse of Christmas! Never last more than a year! Store them away carefully and still only half the strand lights up! AAARRRGGGHHH, I hate mini lights!!!”
Whoa. Why was I letting this stress me out? First of all, faulty mini lights are definitively a first world problem. Secondly, why was I allowing a little aggravation sabotage the joyful expectancy of Advent?
A little self-reflection was all it took to know what was really going on inside me. Advent/Christmas can be a veritable minefield of stress and frustration. The season is filled with high expectations, overbooked calendars and idealistic hopes.
We want our Christmas to be joyful… we want it to be meaningful… we want to share gifts and give and receive hospitality. And yet all the wonderful opportunities the season presents can easily stress us out when added to our already overburdened lives and overextended checkbooks.
I have no brilliant wisdom on how to remedy this ever-present dilemma. Conventional wisdom still works well (i.e: live within your means, both in terms of the commitments you make and the money you spend; be intentional about the important things this season encourages – like worship, giving, and sharing; remember that a thoughtful “no” often opens the way to a restorative “yes”; reclaim the beauty of a more simple Advent/Christmas… things like that). Lack of wisdom is not my problem; putting it into practice is.
Sufjan Stevens has written a poignant song entitled “The Worse Christmas Ever”. In it, he describes one family Christmas he experienced as a boy where everything went wrong and all the dysfunction in his family exploded on Christmas day. The train wreck of a Christmas day Sufjan describes with his lyrics is in sharp contrast to the hauntingly beautiful music the lyrics are sung to.
And then, at the very end, you understand why Sufjan wrote such beautiful music for this song. The last words of the song are simply, “Silent night, the Lord will rise.” The song is proclaiming that somehow, the good news of Jesus come, God born a baby, the ultimate gift of God’s unconditional love for us, redeems the mess that our brokenness and stress and dysfunction so often make of many a Christmas.
All those things (brokenness, stress, dysfunction, etc.) are not the last word. “Silent night, the Lord will rise.” That’s the last word. A word of hope. And redemption. And even the worst Christmas ever can’t darken the light this good news gives. This news, and the Jesus it proclaims, will save us.
In that alone, we find reason to rejoice. And be glad.