When Christmas Turns Upside Down

In the famous words of Joni Mitchell, “It’s Coming on Christmas.” It is the time of year when we deck the halls and sing the carols and watch the heartwarming movies and trim the tree. And these are good things as they remind us of the hope and light and love in the world and how it comes to us.

But this year I just can’t.

I’ve tried. We have the tree up in our house. It is up with about half of its pre-lit lights not working and totally undecorated.  I went to Lowe’s to buy some outdoor decorations in the spirit of Clark Griswald. But the wreaths and bows are still laying in the floor of my garage.

What is the problem you wonder?

I could blame it on two sinus infections in two months or how I struggle with depression in December, but I think its more than that. This year there is a bigger block.

I don’t know how to sing Fa la la about Jesus’s coming when so many people in this world are still suffering on their different crosses.

This week we watch as modern day massacre plays out in Aleppo. A massacre that would seem unbelievable were it not for the very real details laid out on social media. I struggle to even imagine what is happening much less how to respond.

For months we’ve watched as our nation’s indigenous people have suffered trial after trial in trying to protect the small amount of land they can call their own from outside forces that they believe would cause their land and people harm. I try to understand how after so many years of mistreatment these souls can have the courage to peacefully endure tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons in sub freezing temperature to protect the heritage they hold dear. Even though the Native community has received some good news of late, I still feel no peace about their long term future.

Much closer to home, in the state of Georgia in the last month six police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Two at a traffic stop, two responding to a dispute between neighbors call, and two responding to a domestic dispute. These were good guys doing what was for them a regular days work. Now they leave a hole in the lives of their families and communities.

I would try to cheer myself up out of my gloom and tell myself it is not my problem. Except as a Christian, as a human, I know that it is my problem.

I’ve done a good bit of supply preaching of late and the Scriptures have been filled with not cheer, but warning and exhortations. Stay awake! Pay attention to what is happening around you says the first Sunday of Advent. The warnings go on to tell us what we do to the least of these we do unto God.

Then John the Baptists comes and tells us to repent. To prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare for the same Lord who tells us the story about the least of these. And the exhortation to get ready coming from a guy who lives in the woods wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey.

And then we hear the story of Mary and Elizabeth. A story that could be sentimentalized were it not for Mary’s great magnificat. A poem that tells about bringing down the powerful and and lifting up the lowly. Talks about filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty.

So in the midst of these words and warnings I think I’ll just keep that tree bare for now and be okay with that.

Maybe it is alright to cry a little in Advent. Maybe it is okay to feel the pain of the not yet, the pain of a world in need of its redeemer. A world that needs Jesus to come again and again until all things are made new.

When Christmas comes I will celebrate. For God has come to be with us. Even in our tragedy. Even in our pain. And this presence is our hope and salvation.

But for these last days of preparation, I will tell my heart it is okay to be sad. For my sadness means I am paying attention to the wounds of the world. I am seeing the places that need to be covered with healing and light and love.

Because Jesus’s coming does not mean I get to just sit back and drink eggnog and be happy about the birth of a baby.

For this is the baby born in the dirt of a stable to backwater parents who had very little rights in their own home land.

This is the baby that with his parents had to flee from their home and run for their lives. The refugee baby that was sheltered in a nearby land while countless others were massacred.

This is the baby that when you look in his eyes, it makes you get up and walk a different way for you have seen the world in a whole new light.

So if your Christmas has been turned upside down, Take heart. You are not alone. Let’s keep watching and waiting and looking for the Christ child in our midst.

For he is coming. One way or another. He will always come.

 

Rolling with Imperfection This Christmas

So we are finally down to two of the biggest days of the year, Christmas and Christmas Eve.

But with Big Days come Big Expectations.

Expectations that often can not be met.

I’ve been noticing this month more and more how my melancholy and struggle with the Christmas season is not actually rooted in a dislike of Christmas. In fact it comes from my deep love of Christmas and all that it stands for. A love so deep that nothing could possibly ever live up to my ideal of how to celebrate it.

I am not satisfied with the lovely hour of caroling at the neighboring nursing home. I want our musical family to come up with an hour long act to perform at nursing homes across the mid state area. The Hobbs family singers. In my mind we bring outrageous joy and cheer to the countless sad folks who need it so badly.

A nice idea. Sure. Realistic? No way.

Embracing imperfection this Christmas

My wonky Christmas tree complete with burnt out lights and mis -matched ornaments

 

Even my less grandiose dreams are hard to pull off. I see all these Pinterest perfect pictures of friends’ houses scrolling across my facebook feed. My own house is a mix match of handmade and passed down ornaments and decor that don’t always speak the same language. On good days I describe it as quirky, but secretly I worry I just don’t measure up.

So I find myself turning into my favorite Christmas character. No, not Mary or Elizabeth or even the ever spiritual Linus. Come mid December I morph into the lovable but crazy Clark Griswold.

Yes, Clark too loves Christmas and wants desperately to create the perfect family Christmas for everyone to enjoy. Complete with light display, big family dinner, and a show stopping present that will bring joy and delight to everyone on Christmas morning.

Undoubtedly Clark’s heart is in the right place, but he is asking too much. Nothing will ever be that picture perfect. The tree will be wonky, the in-laws will fight, and weird relatives will crash your party and dump toxic waste down your storm drain.

But Clark learns. He learns to roll with the imperfections.

When you get locked in the attic while your family is out shopping, just put on some old clothes and enjoy those old family movies.

And when Aunt Bethany says the pledge of allegiance instead of a blessing of the big family dinner, just stand up put your hand over your heart and join in.

For Christmas was never really about perfection anyway. 

 

In fact, it is about our imperfection. The imperfection that draws us to the God who came to be with us and lead our wonky, quirky selves into joy and light.

So this year when the turkey turns out bone dry and the cat burns the tree down, just roll with it. Embrace all the imperfection. For it is not so bad after all.

After all, you may not always remember the picture perfect Christmas, but no one will forget the night they stood on the lawn and sang the national anthem after Uncle Louis’s cigar set off an explosion that sent the plastic Santa and all his reindeer flying through the sky.

So, Merry Early Christmas Everyone!

 

May you find joy in the unexpected and even the imperfect. For often that is the best place for it to be found.

 

Learning from Babouska

Every year my children and I read from this picture book, My Very First Christmas: Stories for the Very Young. It has delightful little stories retelling not only the Bible narratives, but also sharing Christmas legends from around the world.

One of our favorite stories from this book is that of Baboushka.  The kids originally loved it because of the thick Russian accent I would adopt whenever I said her name. It made them giggle every time. I love it because I cannot get through it without crying. It speaks truth to my heart.

So as an early Christmas present, I will paraphrase for you the story of Baboushka as told by Lois Rock.

Remembering Baboushka

*****

Baboushka was an old Russian lady. She lived alone in a cottage by the edge of town. Even at her age, every day she worked hard cooking, cleaning, and going about her daily chores.

One day as Baboushka was finishing dinner, she heard a knock at her cottage door. When she answered she discovered three men dressed in the finest clothes. Being a good hostess, she invited them in from the cold. However as she noticed the puddles their snowy boots were making on her floors, she couldn’t help but grumble to herself. She had just cleaned them and now look at the mess!

After Baboushka served a dinner of soup and bread, the three rich men prepared to go. They informed her they were looking for a new baby, a baby that was to be king. “Come with us Baboushka,” they asked. “Join us as we travel to offer our gifts to this new baby king.”

Baboushka thanked them for the offer, but politely declined. There was still so much to do. The house was a mess and her list of chores was never ending.

As Baboushka slept that night, she was awakened from her rest by the sound of angels singing. She looked out her window and saw a star dancing in the sky. Realizing these must be signs of the baby king, she decided to rush after her three visitors and join them. She too would offer the newborn king a gift to welcome it into the world.

But as Baboushka walked around with her basket of toys for the baby, she was not sure where to find him. Just to be safe, she began leaving toys at any house where she heard the sound of children. Even if this was not the house of the king, surely he would like her offerings.

Even today people say Baboushka is still wandering about, looking for the king and leaving gifts for all the children she finds on her way.

remembering Baboushka

****

This story nails me every time because of how often am I like Baboushka, too worried about how messy the house is getting or what is left on my December to-do list to enjoy the miracles that are happening around me every day.

December can be a busy time and therefore stressful. But what a shame to miss the joy of the coming of the king because I am too worried about the mess on my floor (while ignoring the mess in my heart).

Baboushka reminds me to let some of my to-dos go so that I can get swept up in the magic and miracle of it all. I can relish the joy of my own laughing children as well as the joy of the child who came to be king.

In the end, I still read the story of Baboushka even though my children are no longer “very young” because I still need it. I still waste precious moments being cranky and consumed by unimportant details while angels sing all around me. I push through the rituals and routines of Christmas to check them off my list instead of letting their joy and meaning resound in my heart.

So, take some advice from me and Baboushka this season. Let some of the little stuff go. Put down the broom and go on an adventure looking for the king. Pass out toys to children you meet along the way. And always, always keep searching for that baby king come down. You just never know where you might find him.

 

Do you have a favorite Christmas legend you read every year? Care to Share?