I have never handled Christmas well. The wife and the rest of the family would probably say that I am related to the Grinch of Dr. Seuss fame . . . but, I really don’t have a heart that is three sizes too small . . . I think that I have a heart that is fairly normal, but overwhelmed . . . so overwhelmed that it cannot handle the holiday season because it makes my heart ache.
It is probably just the introvert in me. Christmas is an extroverted sort of a holiday. It has been the “hot topic” for more than a month now . . . closer to six to eight weeks depending on whether or not you go with the retail world’s after Halloween onslaught or the more tradition creeping into Thanksgiving . . . calling for people to get up and party hardy . . . to mingle and mosey . . . to gather and celebrate . . . the more, the merrier. Christmas is filled with gathering . . . the gathering of families, friends, congregations, communities, and just about any person that can be pulled off the street. Christmas, as it has come to be, is a “get in your face” sort of holiday filled with people . . . lots of people. An introvert’s worse nightmare. Christmas seems to scream at you. After a while it kind of overwhelms me.
Christmas is noisy. Between all of the blaring holiday music and the advertisements screaming at us . . . it gets pretty loud. Christmas is flashy. There are all the light displays decorating houses and neighborhoods, blaring their music, and flashing colorful displays of holiday cheer. It almost gets to be blinding. Christmas is extravagant . . . almost a competition . . . seeing who can one-up the other. It is almost more than one can handle . . . overwhelming.
Throw into the mix the whole secular versus religious battle of Christmas and it just gets more and more convoluted. The arguments abound between whether “Jesus is the reason for the season” or if it is just another holiday with a jolly fat man in a red suit delivering gifts to those who can afford them. Both sides shout . . . no scream . . . at each other that their side is the correct way to celebrate the holiday, whether or not it is politically correct. Neither side listens very well . . . and, well, it gets to be a little overwhelming having to decide between the purity of the Virgin Birth and stuffing the stocking full of gifts. Shoot . . . both sides are a little ridiculous and thin-skinned. Often this debate does not reflect well on those who call themselves the followers of Jesus . . . not very loving or understanding . . . especially when Jesus himself calls us to embrace our neighbors in their diversity and differences. My heart grows weary of the constant arguing.
As a traditionalist, I have always been amazed at the ferocious embrace Christmas by those who call themselves Christians. They act as if this is the defining point of the faith story . . . and, yet, give little credence to the fact that it is the final transition into the final movement of God’s love that is culminated in the cross and resurrection of Easter. Easter is the defining moment of the Christian journey of faith . . . not Christmas. Yet, the “church” continues to jump on the bandwagon of Christmas as that defining moment of faith . . . blind to the movement of God in the lives of humanity. It overwhelms my heart that we miss the fact that Christmas is the opening of the door of the journey and story that never ends. Christmas is not the end in itself . . . it is just the beginning.
Christmas is overwhelming for me . . . as a pastor and as an individual. My heart is not three sizes too small. No, my heart is quite normal. In the movie American Beauty one of the characters is a young man who is quite unique and different in comparison to the other characters in the story. One of his hobbies is filming things in his life using a small video recorder. In one scene he shares a video with his next door neighbor—his girlfriend. It is a film of a plastic trash bag being blown around in the wind . . . practically dancing in the wind’s current.
Ricky describes the scene: “It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That's the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember... I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”
It is overwhelming.
Ricky says it best: “Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”
I am not the Grinch. My heart is not three sizes too small. I am overwhelmed . . . especially as an introvert . . . with the immensity of this holiday season we call Christmas. The “gift” of Christmas . . . whether secular or religious . . . focuses on love . . . focuses on time. Yet, so often, we miss the point of Christmas . . . we lose it in all of the glittery wrapping, the flashing lights, the blaring music, and the “ho, ho, ho” of the moment. We are blind to what really matters . . . that time with those we love . . . the quiet lull when our hearts are filled beyond words or expression . . . that moment when a tear blinds us to what we are seeing through the eyes of others that we love. It swells the heart . . . it is overwhelming.
Overwhelmed . . . I retreat. I retreat to that quiet place . . . trying to handle the tsunami of emotions that flood my heart. I retreat to find solid ground upon which to find my footing to enable me to stand within the world of the extrovert and be present with those around me. It is not always easy . . . sometimes, out of fear, I am defensive . . . I seem cold or indifferent. But, I am not . . . I am overwhelmed.
The fact is that I have never handle Christmas well.
So, I apologize for the fact that I am not the “ho, ho, ho” sort of person that one expects during the Christmas season. I apologize because it is difficult to embrace the extroverted nature of the holiday season that overwhelms me with it extravagant beauty. My heart cannot handle such a flood of awesomeness without time to process and understand it. It is not that I do not love Christmas in its vast beauty . . . but, it is more than I can handle in one sitting. Forgive me if I seem stand-offish or distant . . . forgive me if I seem indifferent, that is not my intention . . . I am overwhelmed.
I am overwhelmed . . . overwhelmed until I can pause in the quietness of my world to discern that moment when all those cosmic tumblers fall into place and I am in the presence of what Christmas truly means. It happens every year.
Sometimes it is in the quiet singing of the congregation gathered in candlelight singing Silent Night, Holy Night. Sometimes it happens while sitting with the family around the kitchen table after the Christmas Eve service, eating food, laughing, and just basking in the gentleness of the moment. Sometimes it happens as I watch my oldest granddaughter opening her presents and yelping with glee as she receives her umpteenth stuffed toy . . . just seeing the happiness and joy on her face. Sometimes it happens well after everyone has gone to bed and I am lying in bed, having difficulty falling to sleep because I have been overwhelmed with family, friends, gifts, food, and laughter. Sometimes it just comes in the quietness of a time when I am by myself.
And, when it happens . . . I cannot help but to shed a tear or two. My heart is not too small, it is just not big enough to handle the immensity of the love I feel. It happens every Christmas. In all honesty, I do not think that it is just an “introvert” problem . . . in all honesty, if we would be that with ourselves, I think it is a problem we all have. Christmas is overwhelming. But, you know what, even as an introvert it is good to know that I am not alone.
That is the message of Christmas . . . we are never alone.