Yesterday I packed up the last of my Christmas decorations. I usually take my time because for all the work setting the stuff up I want to enjoy it in proportion. This year there were still a lot of gifts under the tree that had yet to be distributed. And it caused me to consider this past Christmas season and how it all felt like something of a dud.
Now I should hasten to point out that nothing went wrong in regards to the fact that Christ is still king. He was still worshiped, the celebrations were still rolled up into his glory. But for one reason or another they were smaller and lacked the sort of festive cheer I would prefer. There was a somber pall that loomed over every gathering. A tiredness that just lingered in the rooms and spent time getting fully acquainted with every person there. It was kind of like when pastors talk to you about preaching through the personal storms of life. You don’t feel like doing it but you still do so and to your best out of faithfulness.
In that spirit I would like to give a sort of Christmas post mortem. And have us consider, next Christmas, doubling down on the celebrations of Christ’s birth with the kind of damn the cannons full speed ahead wild enthusiasm that the holiday truly deserves.
The Makings of a Belly Flop
There are two indicators that lead me to feel as though at the start of the season I had clambered up the high dive, taken my running start, only to find midway down the board there was someone dangling from the end causing the thing to awkwardly bounce, leading to a finish that was a full splat seventy feet down.
As I have written on hospitality perviously I am a proponent of generous hospitality. Christmas, being a season already primed for giving, is an opportunity to really open up the taps. I love hosting, putting on a big spread in the proper style of a hobbit. And doing so often. People are usually more willing to come round and enjoy with out dragging concerns in with them. Joy is contagious and especially with a good coffee in hand they catch it more quickly. People leave tired but refreshed. The holiday presents great opportunities encourage and minister. People are predispositinsed to receive conversations that would be tense become more charitable. Christians should relish the chances afforded them. But this year it felt stolen, despite our best efforts.
About halfway through the season I noticed this because I spent a good portion of Christmastime pouring a lot of coffee down the drain. Sometimes whole pots. And most of the time very good coffee. I wasn’t doing this for kicks and giggles, or because I get a thrill from waste. It was because in the attempt to welcome people into my home for the holiday I would brew coffee, that would end up un-drunk.
In Purpose Driven Church Rick Warren says something to the effect, “There is something about a styrofoam cup of coffee that people can hide behind and then they are comfortable enough to open up.” I am not a fan of The Purpose Driven Church but I have noticed Warren being right on this front. Get a beverage in someone’s hand and they will relax. It creates a sense of security and something to do with your hands. As a result I brew a lot of coffee. Brewing does not mean it gets consumed. And this Christmas the rates dropped precipitously.
They dropped because A. there were less people than usual. I kept brewing equivalents of 2019 amounts of coffee. And then hardly anyone would show up. B. People were suddenly more concerned about getting home early and getting to bed. Late nights were off the table for many. There was a distinct lack of the traditional spirit, “Well I know I shouldn’t, but… it’s the holidays.” Worry, and concern seemed everyone’s constant companion.
At the top of the article I mentioned there were still a good number of gifts under my tree. These are now stacked by my fireplace. I usually have a few stragglers that need to be mailed. I hate going to the Post Office and I rather selfishly love looking at a well stocked tree skirt. However, in most cases after Christmas day typically only a couple lonely little packages remain. This year though my tree remained well stocked long after. Still waiting for their recipients to come get them.
Again fear played a large role in keeping guests at bay. Some because of personal fear of the virus, others because of extended family fear. Either way the result was the same. They stayed miserably away, and the happy few of us felt their loss greatly.
Commands not Suggestions
This is a dead horse I will be flogging for some time now so if you disagree this is the time to find a new blog to read. The most common command in all of Scripture is “fear not’ or some derivative or variation on that theme. Christians are not to be people marked by fear. Historically when the church has encountered a plague or pandemic it is the Christians who rushed in. They continued to worship and in many cases the cities were made up of Christians and the ill. The secular fear driven people got out of Dodge. It is curious that in the current affliction it seems to be the Christians who are all trying to beat each other to the avoidance of one another while throwing white flags emblazoned with Romans 13 up in their wake.
And this seems antithetical to the Gospel to me. At the very least we should stop looking the other way, whistling and refusing to make eye contact with Hebrews 10:25. No matter how many times The Gospel Coalition assures us that this is the right thing to do.
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25
Virus or no, government edicts or not, Christians are commanded to gather and worship. And for clarification, online is not gathering. There should be more discussion every time we are told to stay home, “to love our neighbors” as to wether we serve God or man.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
So here we are. Granted there is no command for people to gather at my house for coffee, a meal gift giving, and a double string of scotches. But to neglect those things is to keep a steady pulse but fail to live life. All of these things are gifts, the sweet meats, potatoes, cheeses galore, steaming bowls of sauce, mulled wine simmering away. God has given the tastes, smells, the textures, and heat, sweet, salty, creamy. He laid down the scotch ages ago. The gifts were chosen. And to refuse that out of a fright that the end is neigh and holing up alone strikes me as; well… Something like insisting on staying in a slum making mud pies when a weekend at the sea is offered.
The absences strike me as a tad selfish in another way. Lewis wrote after the death of Charles Williams how he not only lost Williams but a bit of all of his friends. Williams took with himself to the grave a part of, Dyson, Tolkien, “Humphrey” Harvard, and Warnie. Lewis wrote of how he would never again hear Tolkien laugh the way he would only laugh at a Williams joke. A part of Tolkien had died too. When one member of a close knit group is absent the whole is lacking.
There were many empty seats this past year and the void was palpably felt. Perhaps the pall I described earlier was a sort of grief or a restraint. People were holding back because you don’t want to alienate dear friends by creating a bunch of new intimacies. The tragedy is that the vacuum groups of friends abhor is driven not by internal friction, but fear. Fear of one another. Fear is a great divider of men.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
What then is to be done about this. It would appear that my solution has already been spoiled earlier. I would propose that we have a little over 11 months to build up to a proper smash. The kind of parties that would drive the pharisees mad and Jesus would delight in attending. It will be Christmas, the season in which we celebrate the birth of the one who conquered death. Let me repeat that, the one who conquered death. Death has no victory, it has no sting. It’s power is tied up in the fear it exudes. Joy should overtake our fear. And it should be such a joy that bubbles over into good Christmas cheer.
The current year will have plenty of troubles all it’s own. Right now we would do well to remember the command of Christ and not worry about tomorrow. The key lies in not worrying, not fearing. To many focus on the tomorrow. If the Lord wills tomorrow will come. If he wills next Christmas will come. We should lead up to that glorious season fighting fear, with high expectations of what we insist we will celebrate.
Right now the specter of the next christmas looms as a vapor in the distance, We should this year go out to greet it. It will become more solid as we draw near and we should rejoice. Our king has come and we should celebrate that from house to house. There should be loud voices ringing out, hearty laughter in abundance, tables heaving under the weight of good food, gifts given with delight for both the giver and recipient, and a string of damn good double scotches.