This is a guest post by Olivia Cordray.
Confession time: I hate Christmas.
I hate the hypersaturated department store ads, the jingly music on the radio, “keep the Christ in Christmas,” “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the debate about what seasonal greeting is most inclusive, the pressure to buy gifts for family members you never talk to and only see once a year, the complex social dance involved in deciding upon whom to spend Christmas day with (which is usually settled by answering the real question: who will be most offended if we don’t spend it with them?). It doesn’t help that my family’s inability to deal with the stress of Christmas is legendary. Like the time my mother hurled the Christmas tree off of the deck into the woods, ornaments and all. It’s almost funny in retrospect, such a small woman wrestling that seven-foot live tree through the French doors, returning to announce grimly that she’s never “doing Christmas” again. I don’t even remember what prompted it, but she did this three different years, which makes it even funnier, in a gallows-humor kind of way.
I learned to appreciate gallows-humor at an early age. The 1995 film “Babe” (that’s right— the one about the talking pig) features a duck named Ferdinand whose existential angst stems from his realization that his raison d’etre is to become dinner. In one scene, Ferdinand meditates on the horrors of the season: “Christmas,” he mutters to himself. “Christmas means dinner. Dinner means death. Death means carnage. Christmas means carnage!”
The truth is that I feel a lot like Ferdinand, and I know I’m not alone. In the past, Advent has been for me a period of waiting for the hammer to fall. The cheer and merriment of the weeks leading up to Christmas only enhance my irritation and anxiety; the coiling tension as the big day grows nearer corkscrews into me like the psychological equivalent of a medieval torture device. I know to expect an upswing in my own anxiety and heightened sensitivity in my family members, and as I get older I think I’m getting better at bracing myself, but still it gets under my skin in insidious ways, until I’m mid-argument with my husband about the many inadequacies of his usual last-minute Christmas preparations and I suddenly realize I’m starting to sound like exactly what disgusts me about the holiday season.
This year, though, I’m starting to appreciate Advent for the first time as a much-needed antidote for this surfeit of Christmas jolliness. What I hate about Christmas at its heart isn’t the thing itself, but the insincerity of our rehearsal of its mantras. December has become an aisle down which we rush to get to the cashier and out the door – just gimme my presents already and let’s get on with real life!
My friends, we need to stop. And as counter-intuitive as it sounds, we need to savor our impatience and realize that our disillusionment, or at least our sense of dissatisfaction, is what this time is about. John Keats writes about what he calls “agonie ennuyeuse,” or the tedious agony – the lying-fallow of the poet’s creativity, a period of gestation, waiting until the time is ripe. A period of watchful, active waiting, which acknowledges a sense of incompletion without succumbing to despair. The tedious agony — what we felt as children, nearly aching with impatience for Christmas to arrive. What we feel now, sometimes bitterly disappointed that the time has not yet come.
What we need more than ever is our Messiah to come and deliver us, to mend our broken world, to redeem our broken hearts. Indeed, nothing else will give our wandering hearts rest. Instead of letting our restlessness turn us to pessimism this Advent, let us allow that dissatisfaction to draw our hearts and eyes to God in anticipation of the coming of his Son.
Olivia is a musician at Christ Our King and a graduate student in German Studies at Mizzou. You can follow her on her blog where she writes about pens: penventory.wordpress.com
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