It's the most wonderful time of the year!
Then, there's the entire Christmas vocabulary. Its the stuff of numerous sites that provide holiday language, words, phrases, and terms that resonate with the spirit of the season. Some are secular and others are religious postings, word lists for every people group entering the month of December. One list had 198 words, alphabetical reflections of the positives associated with the merry Christmas thing. Another had only 51 words, fifty of the them on the brighter side, and only one negative, "exhausted". Another had 354 words, once again mostly of the holly, jolly variety. That is, unless you're confused about "fruitcake" and have to decide if it's a person or a special holiday dessert or a doorstop. Sometimes the language of the season is rather tricky.
And, there's also the reality TV Christmas word list. These are the dark side words from the therapists office. You know, words like chaotic, rushed, frantic, lonely, expensive, loud, the previously mentioned exhausted, indulgent, over-indulgent, anxious, worn, stressed, grieving, and a catalog of shoulda, coulda, woulda things and thoughts that hang a dark shadow over what is perceived to be a time of merriment. I mean, the words to the song are it's the most wonderful time of the year! Right?
Just as there are word lists descriptive of Christmas there are also warnings about why the season isn't so jolly for everyone. Life has a way of grinching (that's my new word) the holiday spirit right out of us. There are a couple of side-bars to the expectations that should *ASTERISK our attitudes during the holiday season. Give me a moment to develop them here---
1. Happiness has become a cultural icon.
Much of the cheer we expect during the holidays is activated by emotional
triggers, happiness being the aggregate of so many seasonal terms. It's a vivid
season of bright colors, festive lights, positive attitudes, and warm fuzzies. The
journey through Christmas is about the pursuit of happiness, with ringing bells,
Santa's on every corner, trees surrounded by gifts, and Frosty the Snowman.
Let's put on a happy face because Santa is coming to town.
Alas, life isn't a bowl of cherries, or of chocolate kisses either. Life is hard, often
unfair, and just as often mysterious. Life and death are connected 365 days a
year and it is over-shadowed by brevity and frailty every moment. Christmas
becomes a long-night of the soul when the happiness we so need and depend
on is shoved to the edges by reality. Whether we find happiness in the material
aspects of the holidays, or in the times with family and friends, or surrounded
by memories, if that happiness is somehow eclipsed by what is happening
around us right now, the days merry and bright may be grinched (a derivative
of my new word) by the harsher facts of now.
2. Wellness is deeper than our emotional status.
A study conducted by Michael Mutz of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen,
discovered that "many people are choked by the consumer culture which has
now engulfed Christmas". The study concludes, "The only people who actually
enjoyed the season were those who think Christmas has a deeper meaning.
People with Christian affiliation and a strong sense of religiousness celebrate
Christmas differently than the majority of non-Christians. Christian religious
affiliation is a protective factor against the general decline of subjective
well-being around Christmas." You can read the article by clicking here.
There's a catch. The article in mention was from a study of European
consumers, to include citizens of England, Ireland and Spain. So, there may be
some multiplication of the findings because the American approach to
Christmas is more commercial than those of European countries.
The reason for these facts? In my own mind it is that people with a deeper
spiritual understanding of the Christmas celebration aren't so fixed on
happiness as a goal of life or the Christmas season. Their life trigger is not
essentially emotional. It is spiritual. What guides them through the peaks and
valleys of life is the reality of joy. And, the Christmas message, at least from a
biblical worldview, is one of "good news of great joy that will be for all the
people" (Luke 2:10, ESV).
Can life grinch the happiness so central to our seasonal experiences? You know it can. Death, illness, financial stress, worry and anxiety, loneliness, changed circumstances, an empty place at the table, depression, memories, and so many other emotional triggers can form dark clouds of unhappiness over even the brightest celebration.
Then, there is joy. It is a fruit of the Spirit, what God grows in those who encounter him in a disciplined way. Yes, there is an adversary who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy (see John 10:10, ESV). Can he steal our joy? Yes, he can make us worship happiness. But, joy is that deeper spiritual life truth that should be the object of our experience of Christ in every season, the pinnacle of the season that celebrates his birth.
I'm praying Jude 1:24 (ESV) as my request before the Father this season. Will you join me?
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless
before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before
all time and now and forever. Amen.
Life isn't always jolly. Don't be grinched this year. Be joyful.