The Thud After Christmas
By Marcus Hathcock
December 27, 2011
As we pulled out of our driveway on our way to a family outing today, I switched on the car radio. For the past month, at least two of our local radio stations have been fully dedicated to the broadcast of Christmas carols and holiday classics. One radio station had the standards you've come to expect (and perhaps loathe); the other had some classics alongside artistic new music inspired by the birth of Christ.
When I switched on the radio, I didn't expect to hear those songs playing, and it was no surprise that both stations had instantly reverted back to their regular programming. It was as if Christmas never happened. No tapering down the carols—just a clean break.
It was as if Christmas never happened.
What is it—getting things? The certain approach of high credit card bills in January? Gaining at least one pound by the end of the holidays? Having cool photos to post to Facebook? There's got to be a reason we do all this, other than the fact that "everybody's doing it" and "we've always done it this way," right?
Those of us who know about the baby born in the livestock stable in backwoods Israel 2,000-plus years ago know why we do it. The lights signify the light that has come into our dark world. The red symbolizes the blood that baby would shed at 33 years of age. The green symbolizes the new life we all have when we put our faith in His name. His name is Jesus.
Actually, there was some build-up before Jesus was born, too—all those prophecies and the unlikely birth of His cousin, John the Baptist. But if you think about the felt-board snapshots we see that are related to Christmas, they all depict scenes from after Jesus' birth.
The days leading up to Jesus' birth were tumultuous. They were full of uncomfortable, government-mandated travel, unsuccessful attempts to secure fairly sanitary sleeping quarters and lots of dirty looks. The day of Jesus' birth and the days after His birth, by contrast, were triumphant validations of the miracle of His life.
There was some build-up before Jesus was born, too.
The promise of the Messiah was reason for joyous anticipation; the birth of the Messiah was reason for unparalleled worship.
This leads me back to the radio in the car. What we experience here and now is a massive build-up of anticipation, followed by an abrupt halt. It's as if people say, "Something big is coming! Something big is coming! Something big is coming!"—and then, when the big thing comes, nobody talks about it afterward. They move on. No big deal.
Is it just me, or does it seem like we've resolved in our hearts that the big event was about creating piles of thin, tattered paper on our floors? That once the presents are opened, there's little left to do but eat, clean up and sit zombie-like in front of a TV or movie screen as the day slips away?
Is that how they celebrated back in Bethlehem?
No. The celebration started with Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. It didn't end there.
The commercial focus on Christmas has dissolved what once was known as the 12 days of Christmas. It's not just a song—for a long time people celebrated Christmas in a way that began on Christmas Day and ended on Epiphany, the orthodox holiday on January 6 that celebrates the arrival of the magi. Christmas, for many generations, was just the beginning.
Christmas, for many generations, was just the beginning.
I feel this bizarre awkwardness in our culture after Christmas, especially between December 26 and December 31. Culturally, we roll our eyes when we see ribbons and Christmas trees still decorating the mall this week. Seeing a storefront window painted with "Merry Christmas" after the 25th seems akin to running into an ex-girlfriend or unexpectedly bumping into that acquaintance from high school who wants to catch up in 60 seconds or less. Were Christmas songs still playing on my two radio stations, there would be massive complaints from listeners.
I get it. They've heard those carols for too long. And if they heard one more rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock" or "White Christmas," they would impale someone with a yule log.
The problem is, in our society's commerce-driven push to make money early in the month, we've essentially front-loaded Christmas. We make it all about having our gifts/events/food/family ready for the big day, but the festivities end there. And yet, we wonder why we feel a little empty by 6 p.m. on Christmas night.
The over-commercialization of Advent makes us eager to move on from Christmas, without really getting a chance to process and personalize the birth of the King. But the truth is, at times it's easier to seek a life-changing experience than it is to let the experience change our lives. We get excited and worked up over big moments, but unless we let those big moments direct our lives, they're meaningless.
Merry Christmas, everyone. May you keep your trees up, sing "We Three Kings" and worship at the manger as long as you want.