A priest I’ve known for many years always wishes me a “Blessed” Christmas this time of year. Never a “Merry” Christmas. Never a “Happy Christmas.” And most certainly, never “have a good one.”
After he had done this a couple times, I overcame my natural shyness and asked why he doesn’t say “Merry” like everyone else. He smiled (with a smile a little like the Cheshire cat) and explained that Christmas isn’t really about being Merry, but about receiving the greatest gift God could give us: His only son.
It was his little way of reminding people that Christmas isn’t really about sugar plum fairies, trips to the mall or a reindeer with a red nose.
Christmas is about the arrival of the Word made flesh, mankind’s ultimate get out of jail free card. I may have original sin and am not worthy for Him to enter under my roof, but Christ was born to give me a simple (perhaps not easy) path to eternal life.
The importance of that path tends to get lost amid the unrealistic expectations of the season:
- Everyone who really matters to me will send me a card and come to visit.
- I’ll send out hundreds of cards and decorate my home to look like a scene from the Nutcracker Suite.
- I will get exactly the gifts I want.
- Every gift I give will be the best gift the person receiving it will get.
- The entire family will gather around the table for Christmas with a perfectly prepared turkey in the center and a photographer from Hallmark present to record the moment.
- The cookies I bake will be even better than the ones grandma made from the same recipe in the old days.
- There will be snow for Christmas, but only 3-4 inches and the temperature will be such that it sticks on the lawns and trees and the roads remain clear.
- The Church service will start on time, the choir will be exquisite, all the children in the congregation will be well-behaved and the service will conclude in under an hour.
Reality will likely fall well short of expectations. I’ll be lucky to get an email out, I’ll burn the turkey and grandma would be ashamed of my baking.
That is where the “dangerous” part of expectations kicks in. There can be a wide gap between what we picture in our minds as the perfect Christmas and what actually occurs.
This may be disappointing. For some folks, it can be depressing – I mean medically so. To unmet expectations add exhaustion, sleep deprivation, last-minute gift panic and too much eggnog and you have a recipe for misery.
And if I’m heading in that direct – even a little bit – I need to remind myself of my Father friend’s wish for my “Blessed” Christmas. Even if I get a clip-on tie with lighted Santa nose and the gingerbread men are the consistency of hockey pucks, Christmas is a greatest blessed I can ever receive.
And being so blessed, well, makes me feel Merry and Happy.