I took a self-care day today. That means, took the kids to a baby sitter, got a massage, got my hair done, had lunch, did some light shopping, generally piddled about. In the course of this day, i encountered stylists, receptionists, check-out personnel, waitresses…you know the scene. So let’s say in the course of this day, no less than 5 people asked me if i was ready for the holidays. The drill is supposed to go something like this:
“Are you ready for the holidays?”
“Are you kidding me?? I am nowhere NEAR done shopping, nothing is wrapped, my house is a wreck, I have to work every day between now and Christmas Eve, and my kids have something planned every night this week!”
“Ha ha ha. I know, right? Me too, it’s crazy. I am SOOOO busy.”
“Ha ha ha. I know, right? Every year, I say i’m not going to do this again, and yet… here we are.”
“I know, right?”
I realize this is the dialogue of a shared cultural experience. This is meant to be a bonding moment. A point of connection (or of earning one’s tip through a sympathetic gesture of understanding).
It is kind of like seasonal music, seasonal flavored coffees, and seasonal scented candles; a background accent that comes attached to these December days. They are small comforts in the form of the familiar. But I’d like to take just a moment and take apart a few essential things that make me stumble over this line of discourse.
First, let me say that I know it is harmless small talk. And don’t get me wrong, I dearly love small talk. Real relationships are built upon small talk, in the beginning; invitations to the sharing of faith begin in small talk; an open door to serve a person in need–yes, rooted in small talk. In fact, now that i think about it…most of my sermons, for better or worse, begin with a moment of small talk. This is not about that.
Thing 1 that makes me twitchy about this conversation–do you ever hear this banter taking place among MEN? “Oh, i know, i’ve just got so much BAKING and DECORATING left to do this week, I mean, when am i supposed to get my NAILS done and get little Gabby some new tights to go with her Christmas dress?!”
Please. According to the movies, commercials, and ad campaigns that shape us in this season, the men get to show up, happy and oblivious, for presents, turkey and football. They have neither a worry nor a passing moment of gratitude for the mothers/wives/sisters/daughters who have contrived to make everything so lovely and meaningful. It is a season for women; created for and marketed to women who, let’s be honest, do 90% of the shopping in most houses. If we aren’t at least a little bit aware of the inequity in all of this, then we are just asking to have our money taken away from us. Not to mention our dignity.
And I’m not offended by you, fellas. I’m offended FOR you. (Most of) you could be given way more credit than the hapless Christmas Eve mall-shopping maniac that our culture has deemed standard fair. You are thoughtful givers, you are grateful husbands, sons and fathers, you are discerning businessmen, teachers and pastors who need some good news from all this chaos as much as the girls do. And yet, the world is telling you that you don’t have to get ready for anything. Some woman will do it for you. (can you wrap presents? No, in that realm, you will always suck. We love you anyway. It does not mean you don’t have to buy us presents.)
So, the conundrum–the men are being told, by signals large and small, that Christmas will come for them, wrapped up in a shiny and color-coordinated bow, even if they don’t lift a finger in preparation. Even if they sleep or work or play right up until Jesus comes. Literally. All the while, the women are being told that no matter HOW hard they work/hurry/shop/bake/wrap/worry/clean/decorate/entertain… they will NEVER BE READY.
It will never be enough.
So, who’s really coming up a few reindeer short here? The boys or the girls? Is it worse to have to do everything? Or to be asked to do nothing?
The long and short of it is–nobody is getting a full sleigh here. Nobody is getting much of a real Christmas in the measure of these extremes. You’ve got to wait. You’ve got to watch and hope and wonder, and yes, maybe wrap a gift or two. But you’ve also got to know. When. To.
And say, you know what? We are none of us ready. Ever. Nobody is ever, in human form, truly ever prepared for the grace, the joy, the earth-shaking justice, the glory, the radical truth, the all-consuming love, that is coming for us. We are never, in this life, completely whole in the way that Christ’s coming means we should be.
But…well, maybe there comes a time, sometime before midnight on Christmas Eve, to put down one’s checklist and, like Mary, say “Here am I, a servant of the Lord.” There comes a time to realize that the goofy charicatures on the Target and Walmart and Lowe’s commercials do not have to be us. There comes a time when all God’s people can say, ‘we may not be ready. But we are waiting. We are willing participants in this drama, even if our own offerings are not quite wrapped or baked yet.”
Next time somebody asks if you are ready for Christmas, say simply, “Yes! I am.” It will blow their freakin mind. And may even open the door for some small talk. Life-giving, earth-shaking, door-opening, seasonal small talk. With a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.