Driving around Charlotte this week, I have been dazed, dazzled, and confused by the explosion of holiday decorations, the countless sale signs, and the tripling of traffic on the streets at nearly every hour of the day. What used to be simple midday trips to the supermarket have been transformed into parking fiascos, emotional assaults by men and women of all ages soliciting funds for various charities, and exercises in self-restraint every time I see a display of Hershey's kisses in various flavors. I do love Christmas candy. Who am I kidding? I like all kinds of candy!!!
Earlier this evening, I nearly ran my car into a tree; I was literally driven to distraction by an overly decorated house in our neighborhood. What is it that makes completely normal, otherwise reasonable and understated people decide to pepper their lawns with enormous, backlit candy canes, inflatable Santa Claus dolls, and mechanical reindeer that bow their heads down as though they were eating the grass? Why do people hang tiny white light bulbs from their rain gutters? Do they really think they look like icicles? What are people thinking when they climb ladders, perch themselves precariously on steeply pitched roof lines, and suspend a few fragile strands of lights on window and door frames? What are people thinking?
Lest you think I am the grinch that is trying to steal the Christmas spirit, let me clarify: I am not being critical of any of the festivities. Quite frankly, the displays fascinate me. I'm one of those people that will go out of my way to look at houses and neighborhoods that take this festivals of lights stuff seriously. I pull over to curbs, turn on my flashers, and take in the entire effect as often as I can do so safely. My children and I try to guess how long it took to install the monstrosities we spot. We wonder about ensuing electric bills, the opinions the neighbors have about all the hoopla, and where all that stuff gets stored during the rest of the year. No, I'm not being critical at all. I'm just wondering. This inquiring mind just wants to know.
I wonder about something else as well. Why do so many people who otherwise have no interest in Jesus, in Christianity, or in faith of any kind make such a big deal about this time of the year? We can try to ignore the baby that was born in the manger in the city of David and say that what we are doing nowadays has nothing to do with that. Even the winter solstice is a celebration of new life, of the end of the darkness and the coming of the light. Ultimately then, we are all honoring the coming of the Light of the World. We can talk about the importance of taking time to be with family, to celebrate the end of another year, and all that jazz. Family is important and worthy of honor. I know of so many families in such deep pain right now that I cannot help but think about our fearless foursome differently these days. Simply being together for another year, still loving one another, and planning for the future together is a priceless commodity. Surviving another year, especially a year that began with the sorrow of the tsunami, has been marked by hurricanes, earthquakes, and mudslides, and strife all around the world - surviving such a year is certainly worthy of celebration.
But it has to be more than just that. I know it's more than that. The baby whose birth I am waiting to commemorate grew up to be a Man whose death I will mourn in four months' time and whose resurrection will raise my spirits anew a few sorrow-filled days later. Christmas is the beginning of the story, the never ending story, the story that is told over and over every year. This story predates our calendar; in fact, it is the standard by which our calender was created.
As I gather gifts for my husband, children, and my mother, as we put up and decorated the tree this past weekend, and Steve strung sets of lights on the bushes in front of our home, I wonder: what are people thinking? Do they wonder what all the uproar is about? Am I the only one filled with questions as the countdown to Christmas continues?
Away in a manger while sheperds watched their flocks by night, was it a holy night? Were the stars brightly shining when angels came from the realms of glory to the little town of Bethlehem? What child is this on the first noel caused good Christian men to rejoice and three kings to bear gifts as they traversed afar? Who is He in yonder stall of whom the herald angels sing? The angels we have heard on high go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born. So come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. Sing in exultation. Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.