Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I enjoyed the serenity, driving in silence to meet dear friends last week. Night had fallen nearly an hour before at 5 PM, and though normally that depresses me, it now brought tranquility. The roads had cleared of most commuters and I’d disengaged my radio. Soft bumps that the road offered my tires serenaded me. As I turned onto Main Street in Franklin, my jaw dropped. They’re here already. The long white strings of lights wrapped around each lamppost patterned beautifully as far as I could see down the street and through the town square. Wreaths with accompanying red bows sat on top near the glow of the lamp. The combination of it all created something like a Wint-err Fall Wonderland.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. At Wal-Mart two days prior, the red volunteer from Salvation Army jingled her bell. The “Christmas spirit” breathed over me as I drove down Main Street. And then I heard my heart speak. Sigh. Thank goodness the next thing to excite me has arrived. I seem to live that way, eagerly looking for what thing might offer a sense of fulfillment, a taste of life. The list changes each month (football season, October’s baseball playoffs, a weekend getaway to Minnesota, Thanksgiving vacation, and now Christmas lights) but whispers a similar promise. I wondered about the inner shiftings beneath the chest of whoever threw these lights up. Seriously? Two weeks before Thanksgiving? It’s not even cold enough to see my breath.
We would long for Jesus more if November and December passed without Christmas. Calm down, I do not believe it’s true for everyone. For some of us, though, that statement beckons us to soul search. The holidays offer copious opportunities to medicate the pain of daily life. Already the lights glow on Main Street. Once turkey-day passes, the malls will be filled seven days a week. They’ll be parties to attend, wine to drink, and eggnog to down. If our feet blister from shopping, countless Jingle Bell movies fill the Tivo. The remaining hours are filled with scheduling travel or actually doing it.
My heart here is not to discourage the traditions and craziness. I’ve rarely been compared to the Grinch, and I plan on enjoying the shopping and parties. However, I do think it wise to check our hearts. The barrage of the holiday season can numb the spirit and leave one worse off than before. As you drive down Main Street, walk through Wal-Mart, and laugh at parties, consider the difference between medicating and celebrating. I remember fraternity Christmas parties in college. The epitome of medication played out before me in the basement party-room. Scantily clad girls hung off brothers attempting to dance the night away with one hand on an overflowing cup and the other playing maestro in the air. The band played until around three, pausing only for the pledges to read their thoroughly written poem lambasting the brothers with vulgarities that would make Heath Ledger’s Joker cringe. My wife had the unfortunate luck to attend one year and left with a crippled spirit. The dance floor would clear slowly as guys would either stumble onto their couch or pass out in the living room. Many of the girls struggled to find the way home.
Thank goodness we know better now. Or do we? We may not binge or party until sunrise, but the numbing can occur with far less stimuli. The extra glass of wine. The third helping of cobbler. The overspending on gifts to win the affection of a friend or loved one. The constant need for another football game to watch. A mild brand of merriment can pull us away from God often more effectively than the Animal House bash. We must watch over our hearts with diligence (Proverbs 4:23). It’s a matter of distraction versus desperation. Do we sing and give and eat with friends and family to escape the pain of life or to celebrate the birth of the answer?