The day after Thanksgiving, for many of us, involves a lunch table spread with leftover turkey, vegetables and stuffing, much of it wedged into a sandwich or a casserole. The same thing can happen at Christmas–we overdo the size of the dishes prepared and end up with too much of everything. Sometimes food tastes better the next day, but some leftovers are best left alone (like broccoli casserole).
Another leftover we should not give our families is an emotional leftover. We can spin the Christmas wheel of preparation so thoroughly, our families end up with the tread left on the floor. By the time Christmas Day dawns, our children have been snapped at for whining at the mall, our spouses have only seen our backs as we run out the door to run that “last” errand, and nerves and checkbooks are in tatters.
We also can do this to God. For Christians, this season is supposed to be a time of reflection, joy, thankfulness and prayer, as the “O Holy Night” approaches–“The Word of God entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.” * But even the most introspective believer can open the door to the knock of “Christmas Culture,” and let in the blustering winds that blow away our plans to pray more, extend more kindnesses, and ponder the true meaning of Christmas.
There is no quick fix for this. Years ago, a friend was reading aloud to our families her favorite Christmas children’s book, Chris Van Allsburg’s “The Polar Express.” In the story, adults who don’t believe in the spirit of Christmas no longer hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh. “I feel like that,” I said. “You mean, the bell doesn’t ring for you anymore?” my friend said, half-joking. But I wasn’t joking. The magic of Christmas experienced as a child had long faded for me, and now I was burned out with having to “create” Christmas for my own children every year.
Even as a believer in Christ, His birth and the ultimate gift of redemption, I was concentrating far too much on the shopping, wrapping and creating a “perfect” holiday, instead of embracing the Gift that mattered: God’s love and grace through Christ, which would always be there for me, even if I did not get this Christmas thing perfectly right. Conversion, a word associated with a person coming to faith, literally means, “turning away from one…to another.” This “turning to” is the only action on our part that can bring us closer to God and it is an act that must occur daily to grow our faith. When we turn to His Gift this Christmas, we won’t have leftovers to give family and friends; it will be a fresh, rich dish of love and grace from God Himself, through us.
*Athanasius: On the Incarnation, Trans. Sister Penelope Lawson. http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/history/ath-inc.htm#ch_2