Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Let Your Heart Be Light

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight...

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
-Jesus, John 16:33

As a perfectionist, I had issues with Christmas. Foundational to perfectionism is "all or nothing" thinking: a situation, person, day is either all good or all bad. For something to be mostly good, but flawed, is uncomfortable and therefore impossible to the perfectionist. So we don't deal well with reality. And the trouble with Christmas is that underneath all the twinkle lights reality is still lurking.

Even as an Imperfectionist, my recovered term for myself -- the self that celebrates flawed reality as a growth adventure -- I still have issues with Christmas.

In some ways, it's my favorite time: when beauty, family, cooking, crafting, friends, parties, music, new clothes, and Jesus -- all my favorite things -- combine.

In other ways, I hate it. I'm tired, overworked, underwhelmed, and emotionally incapable of the 24-7 joy that the Christmas movies and Christmas carols suggest I ought to feel. All or nothing, right? Wrong.

This year, I've had a beautiful, complex, Imperfectionist Christmas.

The second week of December, Jeff and I were waiting at the airport to fly to Las Vegas; a house he had helped design had just been finished, and we were going to the client's holiday housewarming. A weekend alone to celebrate with my husband! And then my mom called: her father had passed away in the night at the age of 96. Definitely not a moment for a light heart. But she told us to go, and we went, and it was the right thing to do. It was a time to rejoice as well as mourn, and I had to figure out how to do both.

This year, my pastor's wife just lost her mother, my mom just lost her father, a friend lost her grandmother, and another friend is living through her first Christmas without her husband, who passed away this year from cancer. I have friends without jobs and friends with cancer. Our hearts are not light.

But the attempt at happiness or light hearts at Christmas -- especially trying to achieve them with presents and lights and gingerbread (all good things) -- miss the point of Christmas. Christmas is largely not joy for present circumstances; it is joy that enduring through circumstance, with help from a God who draws close to us, will produce character, completeness and hope. So many of my most precious times with God have not been lighthearted, but heavy, weeping, on my knees, where He has met me in love and tenderness.

Christmas is also hope for the future. It is hope for eternity. But that''s scary because hope, by definition, is believing in something you don't yet have and cannot yet see.

And this has always been the way of God's people. Since ancient times we have forgotten to believe God for the future and instead looked for present rescue. Many people in Israel missed the first Christmas -- and consequently the first Easter too -- because they were watching for an earthly king to overthrow Rome and restore their kingdom.

But Christmas wasn't a happy ending. It was a happy beginning. The cross wasn't the end either, nor the resurrection. Jesus' followers hoped thought their troubles would be out of sight. Just after he rose again they asked him: "Lord, are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

The answer was no. God's people are still in exile, living in a messed up world that God has not yet fully repaired. This is why my favorite carol this year is this:

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here until the son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee oh Israel.

Rejoice! He is Emmanuel, living with us among the detritus and pain, helping us to endure and experience peace that transcends our circumstances. We are not spiritual orphans. And rejoice! He's coming again, to make right all that is wrong, "to wipe every tear from their eyes."

In the meantime, I'm being called to live in this imperfect world, taking the joy with the sorrow and responding to them both, even if they are happening at the same time. This Christmas season I have:

...celebrated one child getting an award at her school for being respectful, and cried over my other child who refuses to respect her parents

...given gifts to foster children in our community and prayed for the oppressed and orphaned children of this world with tears. And then I've turned around and whooped with glee on a roller coaster with my own children who are deeply loved.

...danced with strangers on the stone floor of my husband's clients house, and knelt on the stone altar with a friend who was weeping over her broken marriage.

My perfectionist self could not have celebrated the lightness in this season with so much surrounding heaviness. I would have felt guilty. Or I would have rejected the light moments as too small to overcome the dark. Now I think failing to thank God and enjoy happy circumstances is morally wrong. Who am I to reject the gift of lightness because it comes to me in a dark world. I'll take both, whatever God sends me. Take heart, He has overcome the world.

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