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The Secret of the Christmas Spirit

December 15, 2008 2 comments

As we wait and watch for the Son, Advent moves from yearning to celebrating. The joy of Christmas penetrates our hearts as we begin to experience the wonder of God’s love. Our culture tries to bypass the desert of Advent longing and enter directly into the fun of Christmas play.

Sadly this often results in hollow celebrations: celebrations that are not really celebrations at all, but festivity to keep the darkness at bay. The twinkling lights, Christmas songs, and Holiday parties don’t seem to work the magic they once did. How often I hear the same refrain, “I just don’t have the Christmas spirit this year.”

In this lament, adults may be acknowledging that there is a joy to be had, but they don’t have it. Children have it. Frosty and Rudolf and Santa bring a laugh to their lips and a sparkle to their eyes. These stories capture the luminous wonder surrounding the Christmas feast. As G.K. Chesterton so often pointed out, fairy tales are food for the child’s imagination. These magical stories invite the children into a world beyond our world, revealing parables of truth as well as intimations of heaven’s love.

But as we grow older, these stories can no longer feed the soul. We enjoy these stories now through the remembrance of childlike joy. It is looking back, remembering, the nostalgia of longing for the innocent wonder of childlike faith we once had.

But something has changed in us. What once nourished our imagination no longer satisfies. As a result, many adults struggle with a slight disappointment in Christmas. Everything is over so fast. The tinsel and the lights and the music fail to satisfy a longing, a craving, a hunger deep inside us.

I might suggest that our lack of “Christmas spirit” may come from not entering far enough into the story. The fairy tales kept us lingering at the gates of wonder when the real and deep joy is “further up and further in” as C.S. Lewis might say.

During Advent, we learn to enter into the story. Not simply the story of a birth, but the story of death and new life. We discover the story of a people, God’s people who’ve been scattered into exile in Babylon, Assyria, Egypt and the uttermost parts of the earth. They have been forgotten in the “valley of the shadow of death.”

As we reflect on their exile, we may come to realize that it is our exile. For we also know the valley of the shadow of death. In this place of trial, we have faced our own disappointments, our own struggles, our own pains, our own sins. Only in the “valley of the shadow of death” do we come to realize our desperate need for a Savior.

If we are not rescued, we will die in our grief, in our sinfulness, in our unforgiveness, in our suffering and sorrow. The only way out of the valley of the shadow of death is through death. So we look to the king who has conquered death. And now finally we may discover that Advent is both a season of the year and a season of our life.

For it is in the advent season in our lives, the season of waiting and longing and grieving and weeping, that we discover the grace of God flowing down like deep joy from a far country.

This is the joy that stands in the face of sin and death and says, “No! The victory has been won!” This is the joy that cannot be shaken. Heaven and earth may come crumbling down around us, but we can still rejoice for our God is faithful and He will not forsake us. This is the joy of Israel when released from her captivity.

Psalm 126
1 When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
And we are glad.
4 Bring back our captivity, O LORD,
As the streams in the South.
5 Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
6 He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.

This is the joy that we offer to our weak and weary world. Our world is sin weary, war weary, and tired from the long exile. Every day we meet desperate people in desperate positions. We are surrounded by people who question their worth, their purpose, their meaning in life. We come as the people who’ve passed through the valley of the shadow of death. We come bearing news, good news of great joy!

Isaiah 9:6
6 For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We don’t wait to feel the spirit of the season. The Spirit of the God of the season dwells in us. And by His Spirit we bring the joy to the feast. We bring the joy that the world longs for. Our kingdom is a kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

As Demos Shakarian wrote many years ago, “We are the happiest people in the earth.” Let us for forth this season and bring good news of great tidings to all the world. Let us laugh and sing and rejoice.

For we know the secret of deep joy. We know the laughter that echoes beneath Frosty and Rudolf and Santa is the laughter of the God who rescues His people from death and bring us back to new life. Let us make merry for our God in heaven is good and great and most worthy of an extravagant celebration!

Categories: Advent Tags: , , , ,

Advent – Open your eyes

December 21, 2007 Leave a comment

Every time I watch “Miracle on 34th Street,” I get a strange, hopeful feeling that this just might be true. Who knows? The guy in the red suit down at the mall might just be the real thing. All of the sudden, the anxious, excited, hopefully pangs of childhood stir in my belly. Instantly, I remember visiting Santa Claus as a child. Instantly, the past becomes the present.

I don’t remember ever being afraid of Santa…or clowns for that matter. I do remember being shy and a little bit nervous. The kind of excited nervousness one might feel when looking out across the Niagara Falls. Standing that close to such concentrated power is both exhilarating and a little overwhelming. That’s how Santa made me feel. Someone with such awesome power was nearby.

During Christmas, Santa visited Gimbels, our local department store. During the rest of the year, other visitors appeared: the Jolly Green Giant, Humpty Dumpty, a variety of clowns and a host of other storybook characters. Each time we came to the store, I would peer at them through the racks. My heart raced, my hands sweated, and I stood awestruck just watching these otherworldly characters.

For a little boy with large imagination, these characters somehow represented the sacred, the holy other. The limitations of our world did not confine them. Their sizes, their colors, their powers and their stories all broke the ordinary conventions of this world. These characters were extra-ordinary.

At some point, the clock struck midnight and the magic of childhood evaporated. The big clowns climbed back in their little cars and drove away. Santa lost his sleigh and became just another sales associate trying to help the malls make more money.

Yet from time to time, I feel the pangs again. From time to time, I begin to see again and sometimes even believe. When I watch movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” I wonder, “Is it possible?” Then like waking up from Dorothy’s Oz, I see these characters all around me—in the faces of my friends.

As I look at my friends, I realize that the characters never really did disappear. They’ve been with me, all along. I just grew accustomed to the magic and lost my sight.

All these larger than life characters, like Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant, exaggerate certain features. Santa has an unlimited supply of gifts for the world. The Jolly Green Giant is jolly, green and a giant. Chesterton used to say, “All the exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right thing.” Maybe a little exaggerated giving is not so bad. And of course, no one can be too jolly. Can they?

As far as green goes, well, I’m not sure what to say. But my folks did tell me about a man who ate so many carrots his skin turned orange.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have known some pretty exaggerated characters in my life. I once had a friend who was convinced he possessed some of Spiderman’s abilities. And I must admit, he did seem to climb up walls fairly easily.

I had another friend who wanted to possess some mind reading power. He would tell people to think of a card and then promptly present the supposed card. Usually the thought and the card did not match. He may not have been a mind reader, but he did possess an amazing discernment of people and their moral fiber. In college, I studied Astronomy with a guy who looked like he came right off the mountaintop with a shaved head, overalls and big teeth. And yet, he was a know it all: a real one. He really did know it all. His ability to remember facts and details astounded me.

The more I look around, the more I realize these fantastic fairy tale characters are real people. And they’re everywhere I turn. They’re in front of me in the grocery store. They’re beside me on the highway. They’re taking my lunch order.

I’ve come to believe everyone I meet is extra-ordinary. There is no ordinary person. Each person is exceptional, unique, larger than life, and mysterious.

I could spend a lifetime studying one person, any person, and never fully plummet the depths of their mystery. Created in the image of God, human persons reveal aspects of wonder and glory that can be breathtaking. Their power for good, and evil, is overwhelming.

In the common graces of God, each person I encounter is wonder-filled. When I finally begin to see this, I feel the pang again. I realize I’ve been born into a fairy tale world of fascinating characters. There are no ordinary, common unexceptional people. Each person is a treasure, a marvel, a glorious being, a sacred other. In spite of our flaws, I can see through each person to see the hand of our Creator, revealing His glory in all things.

This season I am seeking new eyes to really see the majestic wonder of all the people around me. Open your eyes, you might be surprised at who you might meet.

Advent – Santa and the Wonder of Belief

December 20, 2007 Leave a comment

Here’s a meditation I wrote 3 years ago about the magic of Christmas. Like Chesterton, I learned to believe in God in the fairy tales of childhood. Here is on attempt to capture that believe in wonder.

Every year cartoons and movies retell the same story: the story of a child or an adult who has lost the wonder of Christmas, “the Christmas spirit.” Every year the tale of innocence and experience is retold through the lens of Santa Claus and a heart that needs only believe.

Christmas is the time when we hope, we wish, we dream it might all really be true. Of course, we know better. And yet deep within us there is a longing for that place called the North Pole. The sophisticated refuse to waste their thoughts or time with such pointless dreaming, ah but the child in all of us longs for the dream to come true.

In our Christmas stories, we express the truths our imagination knows to be true, even when our intellect says otherwise. I believe that our stories embody our deepest beliefs: the beliefs that are fundamental to our whole understanding of the world.

Some parents hoping to protect their children give them presents but refuse to give them the stories of Christmas. But maybe stories are more important than an endless supply of boxed toys that will soon be discarded. Long after the specific toys are forgotten, the stories will be remembered. The stories shape us: they shape the boundaries of our imagination; they shape our understanding of the world—both seen and unseen.

And what do our Christmas stories tell us? What we believe really matters. The magic of Christmas is veiled to the unbeliever. For them it is only commerce—buying and exchanging of presents. But for those who believe, we know the Christmas present reminds us that the greatest treasures cannot be purchased: they can only be received as gifts. The believer offers milk and cookies in gratitude.

After we sit in the glow of our twinkling Christmas trees inside, we might notice the glorious glow of our trees outside: and for that matter our grass and our bushes may look a little brighter. The world around is not as dull and dreary as we had come to believe, but is really an explosive symphony of light.

When we see the Santa strolling through the mall, we reminded of a goodness and a kindness and an unending benevolence just north of all we can see or hear.

We are not alone.

And who knows how often we entertain angels unaware?

In the swirl of Santas, and snowmen, and songs of sleigh rides, we discover something else—a lean to, a broke down barn, a rustic shelter. Inside this stable lies a baby that bears the hopes of all the ages.

Once again, the manger is an embarrassment to the sophisticated. How could the God of the ages come to earth as a poor child? Yet this tragically beautiful tale captures the imagination: a virgin with child, a cold winter night, no place in the inn, a miracle birth, shepherds and angels and wise men. And in the center of the story: the hope of hopes lying helpless on the hay.

This is the myth of myths, the story of all stories. The story of the God who comes to earth as man—not to betray the world, not to oppress or destroy but to love in weakness. To embrace the downtrodden, love the unlovely, heal the broken heart, preach freedom to the captives, the bear the weight of every pain, every fear, every sin, to overcome evil with goodness, and to overcome death with life forevermore.

We fear the story is too good to be true. Because ultimately we fear good stories cannot be true. We’ve seen too much pain, too much loss, too much needless suffering. We’ve lost our innocence to the dark reality of this cruel world. In the midst of this dark world, a light still shines.

Dare we believe? Dare we become childlike again? Dare we believe that our stories were pointing to something real? Dare we believe in someone who created us for a life beyond all we ever could hope or imagine?

This Christmas we might truly discover the Spirit of Christmas. Or rather, he might waken us to the wonder of a love that we have longed for all our lives.

“O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”

Advent 2 – Santa Et Al

November 29, 2005 Leave a comment

Every time I watch “Miracle on 34th Street,” I get a strange, hopeful feeling that this just might be true. Who knows? The guy in the red suit down at the mall might just be the real thing. All of the sudden, the anxious, excited, hopefully pangs of childhood stir in my belly. Instantly, I remember visiting Santa Claus as a child. Instantly, the past becomes the present.

I don’t remember ever being afraid of Santa…or clowns for that matter. I do remember being shy and a little bit nervous. The kind of excited nervousness one might feel when looking out across the Niagara Falls. Standing that close to such concentrated power is both exhilarating and a little overwhelming. That’s how Santa made me feel. Someone with such awesome power was nearby.

During Christmas, Santa visited Gimbels, our local department store. During the rest of the year, other visitors appeared: the Jolly Green Giant, Humpty Dumpty, a variety of clowns and a host of other storybook characters. Each time we came to the store, I would peer at them through the racks. My heart raced, my hands sweated, and I stood awestruck just watching these otherworldly characters.

For a little boy with large imagination, these characters somehow represented the sacred, the holy other. The limitations of our world did not confine them. Their sizes, their colors, their powers and their stories all broke the ordinary conventions of this world. These characters were extra-ordinary.

At some point, the clock struck midnight and the magic of childhood evaporated. The big clowns climbed back in their little cars and drove away. Santa lost his sleigh and became just another sales associate trying to help the malls make more money.

Yet from time to time, I feel the pangs again. From time to time, I begin to see again and sometimes even believe. When I watch movies like “Miracle on 34th Street” I wonder, “Is it possible?” Then like waking up from Dorothy’s Oz, I see these characters all around me—in the faces of my friends.

As I look at my friends, I realize that the characters never really did disappear. They’ve been with me, all along. I just grew accustomed to the magic and lost my sight.

All these larger than life characters, like Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant, exaggerate certain features. Santa has an unlimited supply of gifts for the world. The Jolly Green Giant is jolly, green and a giant. Chesterton used to say, “All the exaggerations are right, if they exaggerate the right thing.” Maybe a little exaggerated giving is not so bad. And of course, no one can be too jolly. Can they?

As far as green goes, well, I’m not sure what to say. But my folks did tell me about a man who ate so many carrots his skin turned orange.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have known some pretty exaggerated characters in my life. I once had a friend who was convinced he possessed some of Spiderman’s abilities. And I must admit, he did seem to climb up walls fairly easily.

I had another friend who wanted to possess some mind reading power. He would tell people to think of a card and then promptly present the supposed card. Usually the thought and the card did not match. He may not have been a mind reader, but he did possess an amazing discernment of people and their moral fiber. In college, I studied Astronomy with a guy who looked like he came right off the mountaintop with a shaved head, overalls and big teeth. And yet, he was a know it all: a real one. He really did know it all. His ability to remember facts and details astounded me.

The more I look around, the more I realize these fantastic fairy tale characters are real people. And they’re everywhere I turn. They’re in front of me in the grocery store. They’re beside me on the highway. They’re taking my lunch order.

I’ve come to believe everyone I meet is extra-ordinary. There is no ordinary person. Each person is exceptional, unique, larger than life, and mysterious.

I could spend a lifetime studying one person, any person, and never fully plummet the depths of their mystery. Created in the image of God, human persons reveal aspects of wonder and glory that can be breathtaking. Their power for good, and evil, is overwhelming.

In the common graces of God, each person I encounter is wonder-filled. When I finally begin to see this, I feel the pang again. I realize I’ve been born into a fairy tale world of fascinating characters. There are no ordinary, common unexceptional people. Each person is a treasure, a marvel, a glorious being, a sacred other. In spite of our flaws, I can see through each person to see the hand of our Creator, revealing His glory in all things.

This season I am seeking new eyes to really see the majestic wonder of all the people around me. Open your eyes, you might be surprised at who you might meet.

The Meeting

December 19, 2004 Leave a comment

The young imagination can grasp the impossible. So believing in Santa is easy. When I was a child, the world was full of wonder. Everything was magical. Colors, sounds, shapes, and even smells fascinated me. In fact, I think I liked some toys because of the way they smelled. I remember one store smelled like incense (this was the 60s). That smell always made the store seem a bit mysterious. Some people’s home smelled like children were not aloud to play there. I used to play at one friend’s house who was Italian. As his mom cooked, their house smelled like families were important.

The childlike imagination is rich in associations and wonder and faith. Yet as we grow, we often loose that wonder of simple things. Soon we fail to notice the wonder around us as we plan tomorrow’s schedule or review today’s events. Scientifiic laws explain away the fancies of childhood (like why birds fly and we don’t). We see the grass as green due to light and pigmentation. The sun dissappears from view because of the rotation of the earth.

Faith in God can restore the childlike appreciation of the world. Faith doesn’t seek to do away with scientific laws, but rather, it suggests that beneath those laws is a will. The will of a Supreme, loving Creator. So we may explain the details of green, but faith says that ultimately the grass is green because a divine will wanted it green. There is an active will of a loving Creator behind every man-made explanation. God wills the Sun to shine and it does. God willed for you to exist and you do.

When we see the world through this lens, we realize the absolute wonder that we even exist. God desired you to be here this day. And somehow, in the mystery of His great love, He gave us the freedom to gaze in wonder at His creation or to ignore Him altogether.

As you watch the excitement of children this season, may the excitement and wonder of faith come to life within your own heart.

The Meeting

“Oh , look Mom!
Look!
I think it’s him.
Can we stop? Please, please. Can we stop?”

Standing in line,
My wet hands hands are jumbled in anticipation.

This is the “real” one.
At least I’m pretty sure.
Just look at his stomach.
That’s no pillow.
And that beard, it’s real too.
Not some cotton on elastic.

Oh, great.
I’m next.
My heart is pounding.
I’ve never, …

Met the “real” one.

Quick, review my list:
a scrumpled notebook paper with pencil markings.
I hope he can read it.
Let’ see. Cross out number 3 and 7.
Can’t sound too greedy.
Put a star by 1 and 5. These are the most important.

Oh.
It’s my turn!
He’s so big.
Giant hands gently swoop me into his lap.
Look at those boots. Yep, those are real.
Boy, he looks old. I bet he’s over a 1,000 years old.

“Uh, uh thanks.
Yes, I want a, a”

deep breath.

“A train set that lights up and whistles.
Oh, yes. I promise I would be careful.
Oh wait!
Here’s my list.
You can, uh
Bring me, uh
Anything you want.
Thank you Santa.”

Wow! I finally met him.
Boy he sure smelled good.

by alan douglas floyd

12/2000

Categories: Advent Tags: ,

Christmas is Coming

December 11, 2004 3 comments

About this time, children of all ages have begun to feel an anguish burning in the pit of their stomach. Each night more Christmas trees light up family rooms. Each day mantles and hearths blossom with Pine garland, Poinsettias and empty stockings. In the midst of these transformations, children begin discovering the anguished longing of winter butterflies awaiting Santa. I remember them well and in some strange way I still feel them.

When I was a boy, it was about this time that I would begin checking the paper every day, which posted a small box counting down the days until Christmas. Every day I counted and recounted the days. Every night I turned and twisted in bed impatiently hoping for Christmas.

If we pay attention, our childish festivities might open our eyes to the mystery and wonder of our world. As our homes and hearts prepare for the coming of Christmas, we unconsciously acknowledge that Christmas comes to us.

While we know it’s coming, it still comes as a shock. It comes suddenly, like the birth of a child in the middle of the night. It comes like a twister turning our world around and upside down. It comes like a dream too good to be true. No matter how it comes, it comes.

Now it would be an odd Christmas, if upon awaking we went to the neighbor’s house and searched their stockings for surprises from Santa. It would be odder still if we flew to London and entered the house at 48 Doughty Street, searching under their tree for our Christmas gifts.

We don’t go to Christmas, it comes to us. Our particular home and our particular hearth becomes the threshold to all the mystery and magic of Christmas. We don’t have to search for it across the street or the globe for that matter. The magic comes to us.

Beneath the magic of Santa and songs and presents and play, Christmas holds a far greater mystery: the mystery of the God become man; the mystery of the child who holds the worlds in his hands. the mystery of the crying babe who comes to comfort the pains of this aching world.

Christmas hosts an absurdly wonder-filled mystery: the mystery that in the baby Jesus, God appears as a particular person at a particular place in particular time. In this wondrous act, he forever reminds us of the value of each particular place and each particular time.

It may be that we wait for the coming of Christmas because we are really waiting for the coming the Son: who will come and make all things new. It may be that as we decorate our mantles and hang stockings by our hearths we are highlighting the wonder infused in the place where we live.

Instead of longing to find that magic place beyond our world: whether across the street, across the globe or across the cosmos, we might come to discover the treasure of the place where we live. Our home and our hearth still glow with glory. Our job and our relationships, our bodies and our minds are not simply accidents or happenstances but gifts from the Creator.

Every breath is a gift from the Creator of all things. And in every breath He comes to us with mercy and grace. And with every breath we have the power to lift unceasing thanks for this wonder-filled life.

As we await for the coming Christmas, may we behold him who came, who comes today, and who will come again.

Categories: Advent Tags: , , ,
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