Christmas is a lot more cheerful for me these days than it used to be. In addition to the joy that sharing Christmas with our children brings, I really am happy to be at a church that has one Christmas Eve service instead of five. I feel like I really get to worship on Christmas again instead of participating in what felt mostly like a frantic Christmas assembly line. Back in those days, by this time I would be pretty Christmas-ed out. It would be fantasizing about throwing snowballs at the cheery giant Santa at my neighbor’s house that plays tinny Christmas carols all night. I used to say my tolerance for all the usual trappings of Christmas has about the shelf life of a dairy product. It’s pretty curdled by the end of advent. I’d be longing for the peanut brittle, holiday movies and Christmas music to go away because I was done.
I’m thankful that I’ve found my Christmas Spirit again – because as you know – the thing is that we’re not done! We’re SO not done – especially in the church. In fact, we’re just at the beginning of the Christmas season now. Advent has ended and Christmas is here – but oftentimes these days of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day come to feel like a culmination of sorts. A time to arrive at and then collapse. Now do we just rest a few days and get ready for New Year’s Eve? Isn’t there more to Christmas than this? Isn’t there anything left to astonish us? After the carols have been sung, after the traditions have been played out, is it just time to go home and start the cleanup?
Back in college, my two closest friends were from Montana. During spring break of our freshman year, one of those friends, Kaia, invited me to go home with her to Billings. I thought that sounded much more fun than going back to my little hometown for the week, and I had never seen the mountains, so I agreed to go.
We caught a ride with a senior from our college named Darren. We chipped in some money for gas and piled into his tiny yellow Toyota pick-up truck for the 12 hour drive from Moorhead to Billings. I remember his little truck didn’t have a lot of pep and it would slow down to about 40 mph on every hill and he loved John Denver and the Carpenters – so we listened to them the whole way. Still, whenever I hear “Rocky Mountain High” or “We’ve Only Just Begun” I can only think about that long drive.
We arrived in Billings on a cloudy evening. The next day, Kaia’s father had arranged for a little trip for the whole family and me to go up into the mountains for a skiing adventure. The weather was still cloudy as we drove up into the mountains and it was dark as we pulled into the lodge where we were going to stay for the night. As we unloaded the car, Kaia’s dad said to me, “Well, Ruth, you are in the mountains now!” – but with the overcast sky and the darkness and the snow, it looked just about the same as anywhere else.
The next morning when I woke up, however, I could see the sun was shining – and blue sky peeking through the curtains. Like a little kid I ran to the window to look outside – and there they were – giant peaks erupting from the ground in every direction I could see. Even though I knew they had been there when I fell asleep, the darkness had kept me from seeing them. But now, in the light, my surroundings were no longer a mystery. It’s amazing how the light changes things.
The gospel of John talks about the Word coming into the world – Jesus. He was in the beginning with God. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. That light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
What difference does that particular light, that light of Christ, make to us? I wonder if we might be amazed at all his light could change if it were to truly shine in the dark places in our lives?
If we stop to think about it, it spurs a lot of questions: How might the choices we make be different when we see them in that radiance? How might our interactions with loved ones, with strangers, look if we gaze at them in Christ’s luminescence? How does last year look if we reflect on it in that particular light? How might next year be different if we choose to air out some of those darker corners, allow Christ’s brightness into every area of our lives?
Isn’t it possible that following that light, like a star, it might guide us, too, to places beyond our dreaming?
You see, there is something left to astonish us. Because we not only have a Savior who chose to come to us just as we are: to the saints and sinners, the crabby and the joyful, the honest and the cheaters, the nice and the cruel; but already we see that while he came to us just as we are, his presence isn’t going to leave us that way. We come to see that in fact, he’s more than a light, he is a fire, refining us, perfecting us in fits and starts and in spite of ourselves.
This Christmas stuff – it may seem tame and comforting, the same carols, the same nice story about a baby king and a manger year after year – but now, if you are feeling brave, stick around and see the revolution he has come to lead in your life.
C.S. Lewis said, “The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, “Give me your all. I don’t want so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you…no half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want the whole tree…. I will give you a new self instead. I will give you Myself.”
Maybe we’re ready for the peanut brittle, the reindeer, the twinkling lights, the Christmas tree and the ornaments to be gone. That’s okay, because those things have their time and place. They come and go with the season – and they can only take us so far. But if we have come here this today seeking Christ, then we’ve only just begun.