The roulette wheel whirls in a red and black blur. The ball clatters and jumps, finally settling into one of the slots. In that moment, just before you can read the winning number, time freezes. That is particularly true for the person who has piled all his chips on the table, investing his whole bankroll on a single spin. Ecstasy or despair? It all rides on something beyond his control, the bounce of a ball.
Most of us do not hang out in casinos wagering the milk money on games of chance, but we may do something similar with our emotional health during this Christmas week. Heart-warming television specials, a rose-tinged memory of holidays past, and a deep desire to turn the page on whatever disappointments and stresses linger at year’s end tempt to us to invest too much emotional capital in the next few days. Don’t get me wrong. I am looking forward to time with family, the quiet mystery of Christmas Eve worship, and the chance to disengage from familiar routines. But expecting Christmas to satisfy all our longings is like hoping two days at the gym can undo a whole year of overeating and riding the couch.
If we expect Christmas to “fix” all our broken relationships or give us joy when we have not cultivated the ability to find it in our daily existence, we will inevitably be disappointed. Tempers flare when the family gathers. Deep griefs intrude as we think of empty places at the table. Life can not measure up to a Hallmark card’s fantasy world.
So, rather than expecting Christmas to supply a year’s worth of hope, let it be what it was that first night in Bethlehem , a visible sign that, even in the midst of the darkness, there is light. Christ did not come fully formed into the world. The mystery had to mature; it was years before its implications were manifest. Christmas is not an oak, strong enough to bear the full weight of our human need; it is the acorn of hope planted in our lives to grow slowly, but dependably, each day of the coming year. Let Christmas teach you a new way of seeing the world, as a place where heaven touches even the most ordinary act, fills it with radiance, and calls you to celebrate God’s drawing near.
This week, by all means, remember, but do it also during the other fifty one: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God impart to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.”
The Christmas Story: Luke 2:1-20