I’m sitting in Starbucks across from the northeast corner of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, listening to “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Christmas, with Thanksgiving still a couple of weeks off, is already assaulting my ears. Commercialism—the grand American experiment—is on schedule this year while there are people all around the world, including the United States, who struggle to accumulate enough resources for food to stave off starvation and shelter to keep away the cold.
Once a year, Christmas comes as a jolt. Attempting to bring together the birth of Christ 2,000 years ago, our childhood holiday memories, and the reality of today’s rootless, we find ways to celebrate the mystical experience. Celebrations and rituals—family, religious (particularly those directed toward Christ as in Christ’s Mass), and cultural—come together this time of year in a common experience expressed in a multitude of ways. Although there seems to be a clash between ancient and contemporary, everything coalesces in a dynamic experience that brings families and friends together to share a shard of life that otherwise would be discarded as another sliver of painful experience .
A shard is a piece of broken pottery or glass typically having sharp edges. We each have brokenness in our lives and often bits and pieces of life become lost, discarded or taken from us in the midst of our brokenness. We hid them, try to ignore them and push them away. During the Christmas season, those discarded, distracted, and with a toss of our heart, unimportant, or so we want to believe, bits of life are lifted out of the basement where we’ve attempted to lock them away to become the centerpiece of enterprises and endeavors—family dinners, gift exchanges, obligatory church observances—sometimes undesired and engaged in only out of obligation. The shards of life—we all have them—fill Christmas with something, which, under the surface, often isn’t merry.
We take these bits and pieces of brokenness, often a mixture of past home life, encounters with friends, and former religious experience, all of which may contain pain and hurt, those fragile pieces of life that have been discarded voluntarily or involuntarily, and, grudgingly and balkily bring them with us into Christmas present.
The key to redeeming the Christmas season, so it isn’t something grudgingly entered with anticipation of yet more brokenness, depends on us, not other people, not circumstances, past or present, but us. The truth of past experiences does not determine what happens this Christmas.
Since we can’t forget the past, run from it, or hide it, the kinds of questions we must ask ourselves at family gatherings, parties with friends, or invitations to religious observances include: How can I give myself to other people without expecting anything in return? In what ways can I demonstrate happiness without demanding the same in other people? These kinds of gifts to other people will in turn become gifts to myself. I don’t expect customers or clerks in the stores, family around the dinner table, or friends in regular meeting places to act any differently than they have in the past; I don’t control them. I control myself and therein is my gift, not only to other people but also to myself.
So, I enter the Christmas season, and what I receive from the amalgamation of what makes Christmas is dependent on what I take into it: my expectations, how present am I, How much I give of myself. Am I depending on someone else for my experience? It is up to me to bring all of my past into the present and allow the fusion to create something new for today.
Commercialism is only part of today’s expression of Christmas. I will not allow it to dominate nor dictate my experience. I will acknowledge the reality of it and recognize the pieces of it that can be good for my total Christmas experience. But along with the commerce of Christmas, we can bring childhood memories along with last year’s memories, we can bring the good and the bad, the joy and pain. Even if we have been hurt by religion, we can bring that too. Let’s bring broken shards of life to Christmas this year.
Christmas can be a unique time of bringing together the brokenness of our lives. As the vessel is repaired, a line where the broken pieces are joined is formed. Although life has been restored to usefulness, the scar of pain and hurt remains as a faint line where the pieces are joined, and light can shine through that scar. If Christ resides in your life, it is, as my pastor recently pointed out, the scar of pain and hurt that allows other people to see the light of Christ within us shining through, the Christ of Christmas, the religious part of our celebrations this time of year. The religious message of Christmas is that the light of Christ shines best through the brokenness of our lives.
And so, in our amalgamated Christmas, with the words of the song now playing here at Starbucks, I say “a very, very, very Merry Christmas to you.”