We breathe a collective a sigh of relief as the eagerly-anticipated holidays draw to a close, happy that (a) there was enough food for everyone; or (b) the turkey was cooked through; or (c) there were no major family feuds. What we planned for and prepared for is over in a flash and part of us is left wondering what it was all about.
If you are left with some sense of longing, a part of you that wonders if it was worth all the energy you spent on it, not to mention the money, an ache that is gnawing away in the background, then you are not alone.
It wasn’t the perfect Christmas – and it never will be, in spite of all the time and money and energy we spend on it. Things go wrong and people break down. Most of our disasters are of the kind which I call First World disasters (like opening an online purchase to discover it was not what you had ordered, or a hair dye which goes wrong, or candle wax spilt on a tablecloth) – all inconvenient at the time but certainly not life-changing or life-threatening.
It’s more what we do with those inconveniences which matters. Do we allow them to assume such significance in our minds that they affect our relationships with those around us? Do we blame others? And if others were to blame, do we make sure they know it, layering on the guilt as much as we can? Are we more interested in proving that we were not in the wrong than we are in salvaging or strengthening a relationship?
And if we managed to escape the holidays with no tempers frayed, no major mishaps, what are we left with at the end of December? I saw a t-shirt yesterday with the caption ‘364 days till the next sprouts’. Is that how we feel about Christmas – 360-odd days till the next one?
Even if we are left with memories of good times personally, December is drawing to a close with news of global disasters which send chills down our spines: the tragedy of the bin lorry accident in Glasgow, the missing AirAsia Indonesia flight travelling from Indonesia to Singapore, not to speak of accidents and losses of a more local variety but nonetheless tragic.
In view of all of this, what does Christmas leave us with? Nothing more than a warm glow as we remember the twinkling lights and gifts under the tree? A nostalgic wish that it could be Christmas all year long?
If Christmas is only about transient warm fuzzy feelings which evaporate in the cold light of January, then forget it. We need something which is going to stand the test of time – and whatever the New Year holds for each of us. Like the old saying ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, so it is equally true that we need God to be for life, not just for Christmas. That’s why we need a rigorous faith in a God who gets himself dirty with the mess of our lives – who sent his Son to a dirty, smelly manger which led to a shameful, painful death. Because he came – and died for us, and rose again for us – we can carry that fact beyond Christmas. The fact that Immanuel came that first Christmas means that now we know for sure that God is with us – in the confusion of our lives, in the messiness of our relationships, in the pain and shame which often accompany our days.
So take him with you into the New Year, into the good days and the bad days, the days when it’s easy to believe and the days when it feels like you’re hanging on by your fingernails. Nothing you an do or say will change the fact that he loves you and came at Christmas time because he wants you to be with him forever.