There is a war on Christmas.
But not the war some pundits spend so much time wringing their hands about or reminding us of. The war on Christmas is not about saying Happy Holiday rather than Merry Christmas or about some places having holiday trees rather than Christmas trees. And, it is not about no longer being able to put the familiar manger scene on public property. The real war on Christmas is waged in a much more insidious way and hits much closer to home.
The real war on Christmas is that subtle and sometimes not so subtle pressure we face to buy this toy or that piece of jewelry, and along with it buying into the implied promise that whatever gift we buy or whatever gift we desire will also bring the contentment or meaning or joy we long for.
And, the real war on Christmas is waged via our calendars.
With the days between now and then going by in a blur.
And rather than leaving us filled with hope and wonder and awe, we arrive at Christmas feeling exhausted and empty and wondering where the time went.
And, the real war on Christmas is waged via our own internal expectations.
The expectation that if we just do xxx, whatever xxx is for you, maybe this year will be different. This Christmas will be perfect.
The real war on Christmas…
At least for those of us who carve out a few moments to be together in a place like this in order to be reminded again of the hope and the courage and the grand dream of God wrapped up in the story of the birth of a child…
Is the relentless pressure we face to spend…
More time on Santa than following a star.
More time on tinsel than telling the story.
More time worrying about everything being perfect than pondering in our own hearts the meaning and mystery wrapped up in these days.
Please don’t get me wrong.
I love Christmas.
I love the decorations.
I love the carols.
I couldn’t wait for Thanksgiving to be over so I could begin to play Christmas music in my office and at home. I love lighting the candles on our Advent wreath each evening at dinnertime and having our tree up and being able to get our collection of crèches down out of the attic and carefully placed in their assigned places.
I even love the shopping and I don’t even mind the malls.
I love thinking about what gifts I would like to buy and to give.
But, I also know the stress.
And the expectations to get it all done.
And to do it all well.
And to have everything be just right.
And, how quickly the days fly by.
Which brings us to this…
The words from the Jewish prophet Habakkuk.
I will take my stand to watch and station myself on the tower,
And look forth to see what God will say to me concerning my complaint.
And the LORD answered me:
“Write the vision:
Make it plain upon tablets,
So the runner passing by in the valley below can read it,
For the vision awaits its time;
It hastens to the end – it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
It will surely come, it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2: 1-2)
I have come to really appreciate these ancient words which we sometimes turn to as we turn towards Christmas. But to understand the image you have to be able to imagine the scene. Habakkuk is in the watchtower built into wall which surrounds the city which itself is built on the top of the hill. The tower overlooks not only the city, but also the valley below providing a vantage point to see any and all who come and go.
Can you picture it?
If so, then add these words:
“Write the vision. Make it plain. So the runner passing by in the valley below can read it.”
How big, do you think, would the words have to be for the runner not just to see them, but to read and to understand them as he races by in the valley below?
Or this big? (Imagine bigger!)
Or even larger? (Imagine bigger still!)
So, as we begin Advent and turn towards Christmas,
Here is what these ancient words have to say to me.
If we are to catch a glimpse of that vision…
A glimpse of that grand dream of God wrapped up in a child…
And pointed to in words like incarnation and Emmanuel and the angels’ words of “Fear not”
And, not have them get swallowed up in the tinsel and glitter and pressure of these days…
Then they must be written larger than this across our lives.
Not so much so that others will see them, but so that we will see them;
And in doing so remember.
Remember that in the pace and the rush and the wonder of these days that lead to Christmas…
There is still a message we still need to hear.
There is still a vision we still need to see.
There is still meaning and mystery we need to do our best to understand.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
It will surely come. It will not delay.