Have valiantly swallowed down my annoyance at hearing Christmas music in every store I have warily entered in my quest to gather provender for the coming festivity later this week, a festivity that is not the incarnation of our Lord. I know I was very giving and magnanimous on Sunday, but Monday just about killed it until I managed to find my headphones and stop up my ears with Anthony Trollop mercifully drowning out the wailing and whining, “I’ll be home for Christmas” and all like manner of soupy, sappy, musically vapid noise filling every corner of every place of commerce. In other words, I keep swallowing it down, and it keeps coming back up.
I don’t mean for this blog corner to turn into a relentless, perseverating series about how upsetting it is that the world can’t live up to the church year. I promise, I will Not do that for a whole month. But there are times when the expectations of the world clash unkindly against the reality of life itself, whether or not you layer over that anxious space with any kind of Christian theology.
One such expectation of the world seems to be that you yourself should be happy, and that happiness is available to you by getting to have new shiny things. This expectation is almost immediately spoiled by facing down your own Christmas list. What’s the point of thinking about all the things that you want when you have to work methodically through your hoards of relations and friends. Even if you do like giving presents, which most of us do, the list stretches out before you without an ending point. And so obligation overshadows desire. Which means you had better go ahead and treat yourself.
And look, here I am thinking about Christmas, and angrily at that. Well done Worldwide Advertising Conspiracy. Well Done.
The trouble is, whether it is Thanksgiving or Christmas or the Fourth of July, the human project is a tragic one, and so whenever the holiday is, at some point before death, every human person will have some sad thing happen at a moment reserved for happiness. It may be that the whole family gets the flu at Christmas—or the church—as happened one year. Or it may be that someone has a health crisis and so every day leading up the holiday is spent in the hospital, and maybe you get to be at home or maybe not. Or worse, as for today, it may be that someone has died. So Matt is going off to do a funeral. And then there are others who are facing the long stretch between the turkey and the tinsel in the painful shock of a close knit family circle that has suddenly and irrevocably disintegrated.
Which means it is time for me to adopt my lately invented Holiday Attitude. As I rush through the brightly lit aisles, looking for stuff the way everyone else is, I must remember to open my eyes and smile. I must remember to spend every moment in every checkout line in prayer. I must remember that none of it matters. That all the plastic will melt away in the consuming fire of God’s holiness, at some point or other. I must remember that it doesn’t matter how any of us feel, least of all me, that feelings come and go, that none of us jostling there, trying to get one more thing crossed off a list, are God. But that in all the cacophony, the griefs and anxieties of this life are known to the very God who is not me, in the way that every cold sparrow is known, every gray hair is counted, every single trouble is remembered.
What I’m trying to say is, pray for me, I have to go back to Wegmans for butter.