Christmas is magical. We know this for children who eagerly anticipate waking up to see what Santa brought them (because nobody expects coal in their stocking). The same is true for those semi-annoying adults captivated by the season. But there is also a way it is true for those of us who often struggle during the season.
For me, not feeling the magic of the holidays brings upon low-grade depression, not because there is anything necessarily wrong, but because I feel the void that comes when I am missing out on Christmas wonder. I ache whenever Christmas does not feel like Christmas.
As I read Psalm 122, I have to think the same thing is true for ancient Israelites when they arrived in Jerusalem for one of the festivals. No matter how many times they made the journey, there was magic in finding their feet standing at Jerusalem’s gates. After all, this is the place where all of Israel would gather to remember the deeds of their God, to tell the stories of their people, and to bask in Divine glory. At least, that is what was supposed to happen.
Yet all too often, the temple, a place that was supposed to declare God’s judgment, often misunderstood the divine message. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a false impression too. All too often, divine judgment focused on obedience, be it to a moral code, following a set of religious practices, or mechanically making the proper sacrifices. This stands in stark contrast to God’s true judgment … love.
I cannot help but wonder if the masses found themselves caught in a low-grade depression because the Temple, while magnificent in construction, left the people feeling hollow.
Too make matters worse, all too often, when God sent a messenger to correct the error, the theocratic monarch saw only a threat to their power. This is why Jesus’ described Jerusalem as a city that kills the prophets and stoned those whom God sent. According to Jesus, for far too long, Jerusalem stopped being Jerusalem. Could the same be true of Christmas?
I do not mean this in the typical Christian-y ways, after all, chiding about keeping Christ in Christmas and an overt, “Merry Christmas!” are often laden with the judgment that strips the season of love. Similarly, while gift giving can be an absolute joy, the pressure to find just the right presents can stir a sense of inadequacy, be it financial or relationally, and inadequacy only comes when you are not experiencing love.
For me, that low-grade depression first appeared during college when finals consumed the weeks before Christmas. From there I started working in a church far from family and friends, so I often found myself feeling alone. Then I returned to school. After that, it was back to the church where Christmas meant a slew of extra sermons to write and a plethora of events to attend. The only magical moment seemed to come when I got to sleep on Christmas afternoon. I never really recovered. So I am aiming to make this year different.
I don’t know exactly what that means yet. Perhaps it is just the reflection that comes with writing this series. Maybe doing that will stir up more moments when I pause and stand in awe of the season. I could decide to wander through downtown Denver focusing more on snow and lights than getting somewhere. Or maybe I’ll just sit in front of the tree and remind myself that the child who comes this season resonates with the voice of true Jerusalem and proclaims God’s relentless love.
How are you planning to make Christmas feel like Christmas?