Today my responsibility at the seminary was to speak at our Blue Christmas service. The service is designed for people who are finding Christmas a hard thing to face ... like Megan whose little sister died suddenly three weeks ago, and Phil whose son is a marine, just deployed to Iraq.
As I was thinking of what to say I thought that there are really two Christmases that run on top of each other throughout December. They are so closely meshed they seem to be one, but are complete opposites really.
The first is the magic Christmas, land of jolly old St. Nicholas, mommy kissing Santa Claus, bells of St. Ives and Perry Como and too much figgy pudding. It is this first Christmas celebration that makes people feel desolate. Ironically.
The second Christmas is mystery, not magic, an ancient celebration of the Christ mass - the story that God came down precisely because this is a wounding world, and He has chosen to enter my own personal drama, and yours, to (and I use scriptural allusions here) unlock personal prison doors, make rough pathways smooth, bring to nothing daunting obstacles, support the smallest of dreams and hopes, etc.
In this way of thinking the opposite of Christmas as most of us celebrate it is not the Grinch, or Scrooge. The Grinch and Scrooge are part of Christmas common, a necessary foil. The true opposite of Christmas common is the Christmas celebration sacred.
Think of it like this: there is no human on earth who does not have seasons of sorrow, grief or fear. When those seasons perchance collide with the Christmas season common, sadness and loneliness intensify. What masquarades as the joyful season is really quite hollow when the mandatory pieces (read: tree, loved ones, chestnuts roasting on the open fire, etc) are not available.
But the mystery of Christmas sacred is that it is a space in time where sorrow is lifted, lonely drudgery becomes dance and doors are thrown open for trapped lives. Christmas in this sense should be the place we want to be when our life is heavy and our emotions are ruined. It may look duller on the outside, but it is solid through and through.
I lost heart for Christmas common a long time ago. Maybe I am the Grinch my kids and staff say I am - I can live with that. But there is a celebration I am a part of. It is why I still make cookies iced in red and green, and stuff stockings for The Girls. It looks like Christmas common. But don't be fooled.