A Holiday Reminder
The “holidays” are upon us. It’s likely that Thanksgiving will give you the jumpstart you need to accumulate sufficient insulation so as to survive another cold winter. Perhaps you will grapple with your neighbor over a Kohl’s doorbuster special on Black Friday. You’ve likely filled your planner (do people still use planners?) with engagements with family and friends to gather in joyous holiday cheer to sip eggnog and show off the ugliest sweater in your closet. We don’t have to look far to see the sentiments of peace, love, joy and hope being spread from car commercials to coffee cups.
The holidays expose a longing for such sentiments. We want to escape the harsh realities of this world. We want to be shielded from the violence and hate that pervades our culture. We want to live in a world where neighbors love one another and wars were unpleasant events of a time long past. And so we eat, buy, gather and give in hopes that these things will serve to remind us, even if just for a brief while, those things for which we most long.
These events and activities are indeed enjoyable and most certainly not wrong in themselves. (Well, except the physical altercation in Kohl’s. That’s not okay. You should love your neighbor.) Yet these activities are only a shadow, a fleeting glimpse or a caricature of the peace, love, hope and joy for which we ultimately long. They don’t last. January greets us with a cold slap in the face and we see those sentiments fade into the background once again.
So if they only offer a mere facade of the sentiments for which we long do we chalk up the holiday season a failure? Should we channel our inner Grinch, and sabotage them? Not if we understand them for what they truly are. We get our word holiday from the words “holy” and “day.” Literally, then, holidays are days that are holy, or set apart for special use. God has often commanded that his people observe such days so as to draw their eyes to him. Our holidays can do the same thing.
Take Thanksgiving. It’s a day of feasting and family, both of which can inspire joy and love. But if it’s only about feasting and family, we will be disappointed. Inevitably we will be reminded that we don’t like aunt Alice’s yam bake and that cousin Jimmy drives us nuts by the way he chews his food. Our expectation of joy and love will fall short of our experience. Only in seeing Thanksgiving as a holy day will we appreciate it in the fullest sense. Thanksgiving is an opportunity for us to pause and give thanks to the God who has provided us with both spiritual and temporal blessings. And while our experiences of those blessings are for now incomplete, the feasting and family of Thanksgiving points us to Christ through whom we have been adopted into God’s family and have been given a seat at his table. In giving thanks to him for what he has done for us, we are reminded of a joy and love that overshadow a dry turkey and crabby relatives.
Christmas is no different. The sentiments of peace, love, joy and hope are plastered on every card, billboard and wrapping paper in the land. We give and receive presents. We bury old grudges. We celebrate with family and friends. We imagine a world devoid of war. Yet if we fail to see it is a holy day, the gifts will disappoint. The feuds will reignite. The ugly sweaters will leave us with a rash. The news will snap us out of our reverie. The disparity between our experience and our expectation will once again be felt. But if we see Christmas as the holy day it is, our perspective changes. In the gifts we give and receive we will see Christ who is our ultimate gift. God “gave” Christ over to death on a cross, so that through his death, sin would be forgiven, true love would be restored, the devil would be defeated and broken humanity would find peace with the God against whom she had rebelled. The sentiments of peace, love, joy and hope find their fulfillment in him and through his work for us. Though they’re experienced now in a veiled sense, we who trust in him are promised that one day he will return and we will enjoy them in perfection. In him we are given true peace, love, joy and hope that January cannot steal.
This holiday season, I would invite you to observe these holy days by joining God’s people in worship. This Advent season, as we are reminded of the Lord’s first and second comings, come to be fed by his Word and Sacrament to be reassured of and refreshed in the peace, love, joy and hope that can only come through him.