As a kid, I looked forward to Christmas with the best of 'em. 3 huge gift receivings awaited me each year, and I would be getting most everything I wished for, plus some pleasant surprises, too. In my mind, Christmas was the time to get set. All my problems, from acne to holey underwear, from boredom to nerdy clothes were on their way out the door. Satisfaction was just around the corner. Jesus had come, Santa was coming, and life would be better.
Looking back on those days, I recognize a recurring theme of sadness that crept to my heart in opening gifts. I would realize as I stacked the final presents onto my impressive mound that I was not, in fact satisfied. Even with my super-cool new Reebok windsuit, my Kirby Puckett rookie card (pictured), my silk shirt and my Steven Curtis Chapman CDs, I was still Brian. I would haul my wares happily to my room, admire them Gollum-like, and then feel the sadness come on.
As I got older I came to understand the sadness as greed's melody. So I reacted by trying to forget my own presents. I'd try not to think about what I might get, or to focus on others' happiness. As I failed in this effort, the sadness would come again, but with guilt as its dissonant accompanist. In opening presents, I found a limit to the fulfillment I longed for on Christmas day, and this in itself left an emptiness.
But it wasn't just the giving times that left a hollow. It was the fun with grandparents and cousins that I longed for all year that had to come to an end. It was the last game of bumper pool or Carroms. It was the race to see which cousin would get the last of Grandma Stipp's chocolate covered peanut-butter cracker sandwiches, or my Grandma Flint sneaking me a few coconut and cream cheese snowballs for the ride home. As joyous and peaceful as these days were, they came to an end. And I remember feeling something more than sadness that comes when things don't go one's way. It was grief that seemed to always come with Christmas's end.
I think I know why.
As an adult, by celebrating the week's before Christmas during Advent, I have come to understand that Christmas day is only one part of the holiday. The whole Advent season celebrates the day of His first coming, but also points to Christ's return as the time when the world will finally be judged and put to rights; the time when my own greed would be gone, when the surrounding of profound love and safety would not end. We look forward during this time to Chirst's second advent, which means looking past today, dreaming of a new reality. He will come again, but He has not yet.
I believe there is a grief and longing native to this Holiday and even to our religion. All is not celebration and praising. While the greed, the guilt and the loneliness that little boys and girls will feel this weekend will someday be wiped away, while the beautiful vision cast for us in Revelation 21, when he finally crushes once and for the forces that leave us empty is to come, it has not yet. And for that we have only to look forward.
So when the sadness comes these days, I urge you to take it in stride. Look beyond the day to the future God has promised.