Is it just me, or are there more Scrooges on the streets this time of year than ever?
Believe me, I am festive with the best of them. Nothing makes me happier than driving through town beneath the glitter of Christmas lights, blasting Michael Buble’s holiday album, while possibly sipping on an eggnog milkshake (my guiltiest holiday pleasure and probably the second time a year I go to McDonalds. Need that shamrock shake in March, too!)
Ah–Christmas bliss. We’re even playing Christmas music at the restaurant I work at. It’s as if nothing could ruin my mood… until of course a group of grumpy old women wearing Christmas sweaters came into the restaurant for lunch yesterday. They complained about everything. The water. The food. The bright light through the windows. The music. It was like waiting on a whole table full of Scrooges.
Unfortunately this was only the latest in a long string of rude behavior I feel like I’ve witnessed since Black Friday. There was the woman who practically cursed me out at Michaels last weekend when she thought I was about to cut her off in the checkout line at Kroger on Wednesday, or the dad who was dragging, literally dragging, his crying child through the Christmas tree lot Saturday afternoon. YIKES! That’s just naming the top three that come to mind. So why does the “most wonderful time of the year” also seem to be the lynch-pin to people’s inner Scrooge?
Money? Yes, we’re all strapped a little tighter around this time of year buying presents. Family? Of course, I mean, there’s a reason “in-law” jokes are still around after hundreds of years. Religion? Sure, sweet baby Jesus probably rubs a few people the wrong way, but it’s awful hard to find him beneath the barrage of Target commercials and and Mariah Carey anthems–I think you can avoid Him if you want to, just fine.
All these conventional answers to the question “what’s wrong with Christmas” tap into people’s jerk-reflexes, undoubtedly, but I think that on a societal and individual level, the real reason for “The Scrooge Effect” is much deeper. I think that Christmas, more than any other time of the year, can shed a light on our unmet expectations.
Christmas is supposed to be marked with “joy to the world,” “good tidings,” “silent nights,” “merriment,” and a myriad of other things that you can just as easily find slapped on a Hallmark card as buried in a hymnal. We see countless commercials of families eating together, baking together, opening presents together–smiling faces, thankful children, warm, white, suburban houses.
But what if that’s not your reality at all? We expect the Holidays to be picture perfect, and when our circumstances don’t align with what we see on TV or even people around us, we tend to respond like this:
Nothing can produce anger, fear, and frustration in a human being like the torment of unmet expectations.
I remember the first time, that the holiday season didn’t seem “perfect” in my eyes; I was in the ninth grade (a big year all around for me). My parents got in a huge fight as we were leaving for school about the way my dad had hung the Christmas lights. Something that normally had turned my house from ordinary into enchanted, was turning my idealistic picture of my family life from extraordinary to disenchanted. “It’s Christmas, how can you be fighting?” I remember crying to my mom on the way to school.
The next Christmas, my dog died suddenly after being hit by a car, and the Christmas after that, my sister had to start going to the public school across town from me due to some personal reasons. No longer was the month of December “calm and bright”–it was just like the rest of life, real, and raw, and sometimes more biting than the frosty air outside my Vermont windows.
Ever since that day in the ninth grade, Christmas has never seemed “perfect” to me. It will never meet my old expectations of what the Holiday season is supposed to be. But with Jesus, secure and at rest in my heart, all is calm, all is bright, on the inside. We all have things in our lives that don’t live up to a picture perfect holiday. Whatever the situation, maybe singleness, maybe your dysfunctional family, a tough financial situation, living far from home, a recent death or current illness–well, that’s exactly the place Jesus wants to invade. That’s the story of Christmas. That’s the hope of Christmas, that in the empty, humble, dirty stable of your life, Christ can flood it with his peace, his joy, and light.