Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pain and Problems Do Not Take a Holiday

At Christmas, life should declare an official cease-fire.

One of the tenets of this cease-fire would be that no tragedies, no major life crisis occurs from Thanksgiving to Epiphany. No parent would lose a child, no child a parent, no woman a husband, no husband a wife. Nobody would be diagnosed of a fatal disease. No houses would burn down, no marriages would break up, no mom-and-pop stores would go out of business. Nobody would lose their job. No war would keep families apart.

Our losses and difficulties color our emotions for years afterward. It is difficult to celebrate. We have memories of Christmases past when all was well with our world, when our joy was untainted by calamity. We wish the whole season would just go away: the music, the movies, the decorations … all of it.

My parents, who fought constantly throughout my middle childhood, declared a cease-fire at Christmas, so that I have good memories in contrast to the rest of the year. Not all families do. For some families, the holidays cause the war to escalate. There is more drinking, more fighting, more manipulation, more drama.

Maybe this is why we love Christmas movies. All of our favorite Christmas movies are about broken relationships, bankruptcy, ruin, violence, betrayal, disappointment.

In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” for example, George Bailey loses his mortgage company’s money. He is caught in a life he did not choose. Although he feels trapped by his circumstances, he has found a way to make it a good life anyway. He loves his wife, feels accepted and respected by his friends and family, and serves his community in an important way. When the money disappears, George concludes that he cannot face the shame, that the world would be a better place without him. He is driven to commit suicide.

In “White Christmas,” Betty and Bob fall in love, but they have a communication problem. She does not trust him. She believes he is motivated by his ego to embarrass the old general on a popular TV show. Betty decides to end the relationship.

In “Joyeux Noel,” the French, Germans and English are stuck in the trenches as Christmas approaches in World War I. They are far from home. They can hear their enemies in nearby trenches. Periodically, they are ordered to attack the enemy, only to be mowed down by machine guns.

In all these films, redemption comes on Christmas Eve, but in unexpected ways. Just as George Bailey throws his body into the icy waters of a river, God sends an angel. George discovers that the world is actually a much better place because of him. His friends come to his rescue and all is well.

After Betty leaves Bob, she goes to New York, where she sees him on a TV show making his appeal for the general. She realizes she had totally misjudged him. She apologizes and they are reunited.

The Germans set up Christmas trees in the trenches. The English sing hymns. The commanding officers call a cease-fire and the soldiers leave the trenches to fraternize. They discover they all miss their homes, wives, girlfriends and families. They celebrate and worship together. For 24 hours, there is peace. Afterwards, they cannot be enemies again.

In real life, these situations are happening today. People are losing their jobs, their companies, their fortunes. Feeling hopeless, some are committing suicide. Close relationships are strained, estranged, severed. Men and women are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign countries where they face the real possibility of dying a violent death.

Into a world like this, Jesus Christ was born.

“For unto us a child is born, to us a child is given … and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). In all these names are all we need to heal our wounds, our hearts, our lives. Many things could be written about each one of these names. What they mean to me, however, may not apply to you. Perhaps you could take a few moments to think about each one, or one in particular, and how Jesus is that to you. In your life, now.

“And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Grace and grace upon grace.

Let every heart prepare him room.

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