This weekend we celebrate the first weekend of Advent… and I am already tired of Christmas. Yes, I too got excited when I walked into Starbucks November 1 and saw that sales of Egg Nog Lattes had begun. Yes, a broad smile came to my face when I heard the piano keys and jangling bells of Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” come over the radio. And I have to confess that I got a kick when I noticed the “Mistletoe Kissing Station” located in front of the CIBC on Bloor. But after the fifth playing of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” on a particular day, Christmas begins to feel like a politician that is trying too hard to be liked. By mid-November, all I want for Christmas is for Mariah Carey to leave me alone.
I feel not a little hypocritical in admitting my yuletide exhaustion. It was not too long ago when I would roll my eyes whenever someone from the Church would lambast the insanity of a society gone mad every December, when I would roll my eyes at a priest criticizing a pop-culture that insisted on taking the “Christ out of Christmas.” My reactions came fast and furious: Don’t any of these church people watch Rudolph and Frosty!?!? Why wouldn’t any institution that survives off of the contributions of its members not get excited about the AMAZING deals that Black Friday has to offer?!?! But now, for reasons that probably have as much to do with turning 40 as it does with ordination, I am beginning to appreciate the wisdom in those ecclesial laments. As Christmas became less of a season to be enjoyed rather than an onslaught to be endured over the years, as the Grinch started to become less of a villainous presence rather than a figure of sympathy, I am beginning to see their point.
And I am not alone. This past fall Shoppers Drug Mart pulled Christmas music in their stores this fall after hearing complaints that it was too early. A recent news article explored how many people’s brains react to large amounts of Christmas music (seriously!). Endless loops of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” can have a psychological impact known as the “mere exposure effect,” says Victoria Williamson, Ph.D, who conducts research on the psychology of music at Goldsmiths, University of London. “Anyone who has worked in a Christmas store over the holidays will know what I’m talking about,” Williamson says. It’s comforting to know that the general population, science, and the Church can be in agreement from time to time.
But I am also starting to wonder if there is SOME GRACE in this collective yuletide exhaustion. After all, many tend to be more aware of Christ’s presence when they seek peace in our lives. Many tend to experience God in their lives when quiet moments are desired and sought out. As is found in the Book of Isaiah, “For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). I know that in my own life it is usually when I am exhausted by my own propensity for distraction, when I am just plain tired of all of the noise that TVs, computers, and iPods create, that I am more open to the quiet that God has waiting for me.
To be sure, there are usually a lot of things on the check list before the Christmas holidays. For most people, there is shopping to be done, travel arrangements to be made, and if you are a student, exams to be taken. But if everything that is going on gives us a desire to take a step back and appreciate the quiet that God has waiting for us all during this season of Advent, maybe the craziness can be seen as a kind of backhanded gift. If the noise and the busyness gives us a desire to take a step back from the Franklin-Bass programming during Advent and appreciate the presence of Christ in our lives, maybe we’ll discover God in the midst of the holiday madness. If we accept the invitation that our Church gives us to rest, reflect, and anticipate during this season of Advent, maybe then we will appreciate the true meaning of Emmanuel… Christ with us.