The countdown is on...three more sleeps! My eleven year old is so excited he can hardly stand it, my seven year old keeps counting and rearranging the presents under the tree; they remind me so much of my younger self.
Oh, how I loved Christmas as a child! When I remember Christmases past, they're all warm and fuzzy and glowing, like how the tree lights look when I take off my glasses :) We were all together - happy, excited, joyous, delighted; gifts galore, fantastic food...
All this in spite of the fact that I was a first class snoop - I always hunted diligently and secretly until I unearthed every intended surprise, every year. (I think I've mentioned here before how much I love surprises. Star Wars spoilers? Yes, please!)
And the music! Christmas and music go hand-in-hand in my memory - Mom listening to Christmas music in September (and maybe earlier!); trekking from home to home, singing in the cold; choir cantatas; solos in church; candlelight carols on Christmas Eve...
The songs of Christmas, committed to memory at a very early age, always held great meaning for me. They were more than just tradition, more than just warm fuzzies - they were meaningful to me because I believed them. The baby in the manger was more than just a story - it was truth, it was life, it was hope! He was truth, life, hope!
Somewhere along the line, my feelings about Christmas began to change. Part of it was the inevitable shift that comes when we become parents - when we're no longer the recipients but the makers of Christmas. Part of it was years of draining financial difficulties, when we were engulfed by guilt for not being able to get the kids everything on their lists. Reality has a way of rubbing some of the glow off of life, doesn't it?
Over the past two or three Christmases, things shifted even more for me. I immersed myself in Advent, in the waiting, in the tension between the now and the not yet. Much like Lent, it became a time of examining my heart, of repentance, of preparation, anticipation and joy deferred. The meaning of Christmas for me deepened, broadened, matured somehow.
One thing that remained constant in the midst of all the inward change was the music of Christmas. The familiar rush of joy that resulted in singing the comforting old carols remained, even intensified.
But this year? This year feels different. And not in a good way - at least it doesn't yet appear to be good. In keeping with the conventions of Advent, we haven't been singing the traditional carols in church yet this season. And that's been perfectly ok with me. I kept anticipating that when we did finally get to belt them out that there would be much joy and satisfaction and delight in the singing.
Funny story (but not funny ha-ha)...a group of us went caroling last night. It was indeed delightful to see the joy on the faces of the elderly folks for whom we sang. The sense of camaraderie and shared purpose and voices joined together in worship was wonderful. Navigating our way to each home (and getting lost more than once!) was just plain hilarious.
But the carols themselves? Those long-familiar lyrics and melodies that have never failed to lift my spirits and infuse my soul with hope and peace and joy? Empty. Hollow. Like resounding gongs or clanging cymbals.
And it broke my heart.
I have yet to dig to the root of this strange anomaly. I'm a little afraid - I'm not sure what I'll find. But I will believe the truth, regardless of how I feel. And the truth is, that little baby in a manger remains the my hope, my peace, my joy. Emmanuel - God with us. God with me.
Merry Christmas, dear Friends. May you embark upon your own unique journey to the manger, and may you find your own hope and peace and joy there.