It wasn’t an easy book to read. In fact, there are parts of me that wish I had never read it because it left me with a few painful images I would rather erase. Still, I continued reading because, amidst the horror, the author included short, powerful moments of hope. Good plan. How else could the hero have continued?
The book was “The Giver.” Cold, institutionalized inhumanity was all around him, although he came to see that only gradually. Hope arrived in fleeting moments – light, colors, human connection and, finally, the image of Christmas, although Christmas was never really named. There was a vision of a house, a brightly lit tree, and somehow the hero knew that if he could just get there, he would be safe.
In one way or another, I think we’re all trying to get to Christmas. We know Christmas exists. Like our hero, we’ve seen it, felt it, however fleetingly, and every year we try desperately to find our way back. We spend weeks constructing it, brick by laborious brick, shopping and mailing, baking and watching Hallmark movies, hoping that, if we can just put together the right pieces, Christmas will reappear and we will have arrived at a place of much needed peace.
Just like in “The Giver,” there is darkness around us. Listen to the news, speaking of images you’d rather not have in your long-term storage. Every day brings a new unfathomable headline. Bombs and beheadings, plane crashes and people who fire machine guns into unarmed crowds because…who could ever understand this? Our days are lived to a soundtrack of senselessness. For us, inhumanity is center stage. We go to work and do what we think is good and right but, despite all of our positive pushback, we feel powerless, hemmed in with fear and dread.
We want to get to Christmas. We need it.
Imagine. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just forget about everything for a day, a season, to simply close our eyes and sing so loudly that the drumbeats disappeared? Of course, and we can do that, but the effect won’t last for long. As soon as the tree comes down, so will we.
It may help to remember that the first Christmas came in the middle of an enemy occupation. Powerlessness was part of the landscape there, too. Even as the star appeared, there were forces unleashing unspeakable cruelty on the innocents. And yet, despite all that would make it seem impossible, there appeared joy, a light that gently overcame the darkness and quietly gave us a road map for finding our way back.
Funny thing, the map said nothing about tinsel. Eggnog, reindeer, gingerbread houses, while those things are fun (and what could they hurt?), we all know they can’t actually get us to Christmas.
No matter how much easier it would make it for us, Christmas is not a kit. My guess is it’s less about doing new things than about seeing the same old things in a different way, looking at cold reality with a little warmth, applying kindness and forgiveness to people who frankly do not deserve it…but then again, when we’re really being honest, do we?
For Christmas to be real, it has to be a game changer, and so I am hoping this year that we pour out compassion along with our eggnog, lift our hearts along with our songs, be a giver and a gift at the very same time. How else can we continue? ϖ