The Irony of the Incarnation
Until I’m done with the book I'm currently writing (which should be before the end of the year), I’m posting some of my favorites posts from years past. Here’s another one from 2006: The Irony of the Incarnation
How bizarre it is that the thing that makes Christmas so magical for you when you’re a child is the very same thing that threatens to ruin it for you when you’re an adult.
I’m talking about expectations.
When you’re a kid, you have such high hopes for Christmas. At some point in time you find a catalogue and circle a number of items, hand it off to your mom or dad and wait. In that long and drawn-out period of waiting, all sorts of expectations form in your mind. You dream about what it will be like to come downstairs, wiping the sleep from your eyes, to find a pile of presents. Or maybe you dream of a smaller, more sedate Christmas, choosing to avoid the feeding frenzy atmosphere in favor of a quiet and modest one.
But you just know that the one thing you want most of all is going to be there. Your parents may play some sort of trick on you. You know, the kind where they wait until all the other presents are opened before saying, “Hey, what is that over there hiding behind the television?” But you know it'll be there.
You have these expectations for Christmas when you’re a kid. And it seems (maybe there’s some false nostalgia at work in memory) that Christmas always meets or exceeds your expectations.
At least it does when you’re young.
When you’re a grown up you still have these expectations. And they often go unmet. That’s when Christmas gets difficult. What do you do when you’re forced to admit that Christmas just isn’t everything you hoped it would be? Or what do you do when Christmas looks like it’s all going south?
Lots of folks move into control mode and try to force people into meeting their expectations at that point. Others just try to pretend that everything’s fine while they’re secretly dying inside. Still others resolve to be miserable and to take as many people down with them as possible.
Those expectations that make Christmas such a magical time in a child’s life threaten to ruin the whole Christmas season for grownups.
But here’s the real irony: All the dysfunction, all the brokenness, all the baggage and hostility — all of that is why there’s a Christmas in the first place.
At this time of year, there’s always a lot of debate over the true meaning of Christmas. You’ll hear it on Larry King and Glenn Beck. They’ll argue about it on the evening news and in the editorial pages of The New York Times. And lots of people will fall back on the old bumpersticker slogan: Jesus is the Reason for the Season!
And there’s probably some merit to that. But it’s not the whole story.
See, all that junk, all that jealousy, the lack of forgiveness and understanding that we experience, the distance between those who are supposed to live in intimacy, the war, the politics, the every-other-Saturday, the she-started-it-and-if-she-wants-to-apologize, the commercialism, the anger, the bitterness — that’s the reason for the season, too.
If you ever were able to have the perfect Christmas, where everyone got along perfectly, where no one complained or grabbed or got jealous or greedy or bullied or got abusive or passive-aggressive, if you were ever able to pull off world peace, there wouldn’t be any need for Jesus to come to earth.
So, this weekend, when that special someone starts really grating on your nerves, when you’re tempted to say, “See, this is what I was talking about. It’s always like this. I hate it when people do that.” — think to yourself: That person who is driving me nuts is the reason for the season.
When you get cut off in traffic and the person flips you off for honking at them, remember: that driver is the reason we have Christmas.
When you look in the mirror and can’t believe you ate the whole thing, remember: your lack of self-control is one of the major reasons why Jesus came.
Your mother-in-law who criticizes your cleaning. Your brother-in-law who always asks to borrow money. Your sister-in-law who wants to show you her new diamond. The cranky guy next door who complains about the cars parked on the street. The wayward child who ran a thousand miles away from home and won’t come back even for a visit. George W. Bush. Nancy Pelosi. Oprah. Rosie. Bono. Perez Hilton. Pat Robertson. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Tiger Woods. Sam Harris. Richard Dawkins. You.
These are all the reason for the season.
That’s the irony of Christmas.
I pray yours is merry and bright, and that you remember why it exists in the first place.