She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
Every year in December, I hear conflicting messages. On the one hand, the advertising and events related to Christmas have a “go big or go home” message—bake, buy, and celebrate as much as you possibly can because it’s Christmas. On the other hand, I hear a different message in church about remembering that we are in Advent during most of December, that the holiday should not be about buying lots of stuff or jam-packed calendars but about the joyful anticipation and celebration of the birth of our Lord. And as much as I agree with that second message of remembering the true “reason for the season,” every year, I end up giving into the first message.
This year, because it’s 2020, we are all being forced to simplify our preparations for and celebration of Christmas. And, to be honest, I have done so grudgingly. I have been a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas this year because I’m tired of changing traditions and plans and expectations. I’m tired of having to make decisions I don’t want to make because we are living in the time of a pandemic. I am very disappointed about who I will not be seeing on Christmas. And I don’t think I’m alone in this weariness and continued disappointment.
But the other day, I got an email from a friend and she closed with this: “Have a wonderful, simple Christmas with your family.” That little line brought me to tears and made me realize that I have been missing the point not only this year, but probably all along.
Before 2020, my Advent was a frenzy—a calendar full of places to be and events to attend, a to-do list that was pages long, late nights wrapping and baking, planning elaborate holiday menus. Included among those activities were things to prepare myself spiritually for the season, like daily Mass and added prayer time as a family, but even those things became lines to check off on that to-do list. And as much I enjoyed Christmas Day with my family, there was a certain relief when it was over and a half-hearted vow that next year would be different.
This year, I have been unenthusiastically making preparations for Christmas. I have been doing many of the same things I have done in previous years, but my heart hasn’t been in it. I’ve been focusing too much on all the people, events, and things that I’m missing this year. Truth be told, I’ve been having a hard time finding the joy of the season.
My friend’s email reminded me that there is no less joy or love in a simple celebration of the best gift we could ever receive. Jesus did not come to us as a baby all those years ago so that we could fill our calendars with parties and concerts, gather with every member of our extended families and every friend we’ve ever known. Jesus did not come to a world in need so that we could spend a whole weekend baking hundreds of cookies or stay up until 2 a.m. wrapping countless presents.
Jesus did not arrive with the fanfare we give the season these days. He had a simple beginning—born of a young woman in a crude setting after she and her husband made a very long journey. And the reason he came to us, while profound and extraordinary, is actually pretty simple. He came for love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
So, this year, thanks to a reminder in my friend’s thoughtful and loving email, I intend to have a wonderful, simple Christmas with my family. I wish the same for you.