December 26, 2010
Each year at Christmas a friend identifies herself as a direct descendent of Scrooge. Her favorite carol (she says) is a musical gem that she herself composed. The lyrics consist of multiple repetitions of, “Bah humbug on Christmas Day”, sung with operatic fervor in a key much too high for her alto voice.
This year she expanded the lyrics to include several verses of “Double Bah Humbug on the day after Christmas,” to be sung preferably, as she noted, “in high C.”
“What's this 'day after Christmas' business?” I asked her.
“It's trash and clutter, empty boxes, packing peanuts all over the carpet, and the fridge filled with leftover food nobody wants to eat,” she said with a grin. Then she added, with a smile that carried more sober thought than joke, “Most of all, I hate those orphan bows and scraps of ribbon lying around looking forlorn and useless.”
We laughed but we were talking about a serious truth.
Christmas can be a heart–bruising marathon, and the day after Christmas no joke at all. Even cynics and consumer–watchful realists can find Christmas a surprisingly tricky experience to manage.
Unrecognized and unwelcomed longings filter through the music; unmet expectations hide in the implicit promise of beribboned packages. Distracted with tinsel and lights we may not hear our dim wordless hope: “This year– this year, maybe it will all come true. That dream– that dream, that relationship I have longed for – this year maybe it will all come true.”
Then comes the day after Christmas.
Annoying as the debris left by our consumer excesses may be, the trigger for serious “day after” holiday blues is ourselves. We wake up on the day after Christmas to find that we are – all of us – just who we were the day before Christmas.
Imperfect families have remained imperfect. No seasonal magic seduced unloving hearts to love, or prompted selfish hearts to generosity. No spirit of the season altered the acid of criticism into acceptance and grace.
We are who we were, with old uncertainties and ambivalences, with the same frustrating mix of love and selfishness, of greed and generosities.
When we realize this, we feel foolish and embarrassed. We feel childish for having permitted ourselves –even for a instant– to wish for magic to change us. On the day after Christmas we remind ourselves sternly that we are adults who no longer listen for the sound of reindeer on the roof.
But at this point it is easy to substitute one error for another. Longing for change is not the problem.
It is the great good news of Advent that change has come– a great change that makes more change yet to come now possible.
The difficulty lies in the fact that the change we long for is not a simple package. The slow difficult movement away from self–absorption toward concern for others, from brittle inauthenticity to painful imperfect reality requires more than wishful thinking.
The promise of change lies at the heart of the season. This promise is rooted in mystery, however; not in magic. Transformation that lasts grows from relationship with the Person whose birthday the season celebrates.
They called that baby “Immanuel,” (God with us). Because of Him, we can celebrate Christmas and the day after Christmas lifelong.
How are you marking the days after Christmas in your life?
Grateful with you for the only trustworthy source of change.
See you next week.