After much preparation, shopping, decorating, baking, mailing and hopefully praying, Christmas is just about here. Perhaps you are filled with a sense of joyful expectation, happy that Christmas is just around the corner. Perhaps you are feeling a little tired after all the exertion, a bit spent after all the holiday cheer and parties, a bit down or even depressed by the relentless expectation to be up and full of holiday cheer and “Ho, ho, ho” ad infinatum. That is entirely O.K. Because for us Christians Christmas is not about an emotion but about Faith.
As I stated in this column the last couple of Advents: Many people do not feel merry. Many have lost loved ones around the holidays, and so the celebration is always mixed for them with a certain measure of sadness. My Mother died on Dec. 21st six years ago, and so the holiday is always touched with a certain sense of loss and sadness. Others have problems with living family members or friends – frictions over inheritances, or marriage, or who is spending Christmas at which set of in-law’s house, or any variety of issues. These differences can lead to painful separations: separations that are made all the more sharp and cutting by the holiday season when there is so much emphasis on family and togetherness. Still others are separated from loved ones by war or work or illness or physical distance, and feel sharply the longing for those not present. So there are plenty of emotional landmines in this season of such high expectations to blow up in our faces and get us sad, or down, or feeling blue. Add to that the short daylight, the cold, and you have a pretty good recipe for disappointment.
But for Christians, Christmas is not primarily about feelings. Rather, it is about FAITH. Unlike office or most other Christmas parties, where it largely depends on your feelings and mood, for Christians we are not focused on “feeling Christmassy” but rather on believing in God’s love for us made flesh in His Son, Jesus.
One of the great things about liturgy is that its success or failure does not depend on our feelings. We don’t have to feel a certain way for the liturgy to work. It is certainly nice to feel joyful and happy at the Christmas celebration, but it is much more important to believe in what is being celebrated. And when we do summon up our faith in the preposterous belief that God became a helpless baby, and go through the motions of praying and praising and singing and worshipping, the feelings tend to follow along behind naturally. Faith does not come from the feelings, but the other way around.
So if you are not feeling particularly happy or joyful or merry this Christmas, if you are worried to distraction about your job or the economy, or you are disappointed because your children behave selfishly and badly, if you are estranged from your siblings, or your life seems stuck and going nowhere, or if you are missing a loved one like I am missing my Mom, or if you are just overwhelmed by the fluster of activity and commercial craziness of the season, that really is all right. There is nothing wrong with those feelings. You do not need to apologize for or be embarrassed by those feelings. And more importantly, they will not stop Christmas from happening.
I dare say that on the first Christmas, more than 2,000 years ago, the great majority of people were hungry, frightened, cold, sick, worried, oppressed, hurting in some way. It did not matter. Christmas happened nonetheless. In fact, that is the whole point of Christmas. It is God’s work, not ours. That is our faith.