I went through a really low period in my spiritual life about seven years ago, and I was tremendously cynical about almost everything faith related. I wasn't walking away from my faith or anything like that, but I was really wrestling.
The Christmas season was especially challenging for me. In fact, I know I went so far as to say I hated Christmas. I was disgusted by all of the commercialism, and sparklyness, and blaring Christmas carols in the mall, and cheesy decorations, and all the demands and expectations and outright busyness of the season. Taking note of the ridiculous mismatch between what our broader culture says the Christmas season is about (STUFF!) and what I know Christmas is really about (celebrating the birth of Christ--the fullness of God wrapped up in human flesh!) I was disgusted. I was disgusted with how much the church has bought into the cultural message about Christmas. And I was really disgusted with how much I had bought into it as well.
I was angry.
I was fed up.
I was sick of it.
Something had to happen.
Looking back, I realize I didn't really hate Christmas, I hated "STUFFmas." Even then, my wife pointed out the really great news: I was feeling so strongly about the whole mess. If I didn't care, my apathy would have been obvious. The fact that I was angry and fed up and sick of it meant I cared deeply about my faith, and how it was being twisted with this commercialized Christmas yuckiness, and that I had to do something about it.
Realizing that I was teaching in a Christian school--with all the expectations of Christmas celebration that come with it!--I knew I had to do something.
I started subversively.
I started reading.
I read the gospel accounts of the birth of Christ.
I read much of the book of Isaiah.
I read from the minor prophets, like Micah and Malachi, who had a lot to say about the promised Messiah.
I read Jeremiah 33, which has become one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture.
I read Genesis, to remember how the story began.
I read Revelation, to remember how the story ends.
I read the Story.
And then I started writing.
It was really the first time I had written something of substance: I wrote a set of Advent devotionals that I used for my homeroom of 7th grade students. I was honest with them about how I was feeling about Christmas, and how I hated all the commercialization and all the busyness and all the "stuff." And I was honest about how it drove me back to the Word. And I shared with my students my reflections about the passages I had read, which had become the devotionals.
Throughout my reading and writing, I realized I was seeking. Really, truly seeking; seeking the King.
And so that became the narrative thread that wove the devotionals together: we were going to focus our attention on seeking the king.
My "Wise Men Still Seek Him" bulletin board may not have gone up that year, but I was personally seeking the King nonetheless. And perhaps more authentically than I had at any of the high moments of my spiritual walk up until that time, I really celebrated Christmas that year. I celebrated out of, and even in spite of my disgust for the commercialism of the Christmas season. I celebrated that I had found the baby in the manger, the Word made flesh, God camping out among us. (See John 1:14.)
Advent is supposed to be a time of longing, of waiting, of yearning for what is to come at Christmas.
Maybe that's the real problem. The Christmas season has become--for many of us, anyway--a time of incredible busyness: one more gift to buy, one more present to wrap, one more party to attend, one more goodie to make. What if in this rush to fill up the season leading up to our Christmas celebrations with more "stuff," we are crowding out the whole point of the season?
And so, my epiphany about the advent season: what if we need to get rid of some of the "stuff" so that we can be unburdened as we head out seeking the King?
In the years since that revelation I have begun to do that more and more--as much as is practicable, as I'm still living in this crazy culture--and I have found much more peace, and much more joy in the Christmas season.
And today, I can say with a full heart that I don't hate Christmas.
And honestly, I never did.