By the middle of last week, I was completely fed up with everything.
I was working on multiple major projects at my job, all of which had last-minute major due dates that would have my nose to the grindstone right up until the holiday break. Serious restructuring additionally meant times of high-tension, conflict, and drama. Everyone around me was unhappy and exhausted.
The days were a blur of work nonsense and madness, and then, at home, I tried to work through frantic to-do lists of tasks: dishes, laundry, finishing up ordering presents, listing out ingredients for holiday menus, and what seemed like a million other enjoyable projects I’d committed to months ago before realizing I’d be so busy.
I longed for what I like to call the “magic” of Christmas: leisurely time to wrap presents, walks to look at Christmas lights, holiday festivities at work, time to plan and cook and bake with carols playing in the background. And yet, as I sat in my office during a brief break, contemplating the hours of work ahead of me and wishing that I too could attend some of the small, fun events with my coworkers, I had a realization I had forgotten:
The first Christmas was ordinary-verging-on-boring. It was only the birth of Christ that made it otherwise.
The night Christ was born, the innkeeper didn’t know to expect a special guest: he had his hands full managing the throngs within his doors. The night Christ was born, shepherds in the fields were probably stiff and sore and tired and planning for another long night. The night Christ was born, everything was the opposite of special. People were living their workaday lives, going about their everyday tasks, when the life-changing Incarnation occurred. In the middle of their frustrations and stresses and projects to finish, God arrived. And that is encouraging to me.
I do so love the celebration of Christmas, of course. Now that I’m finally on holiday break, I’m also in a position to enjoy it: to listen to all the old carols, to finish wrapping presents, to go on walks with my husband to look at lights, to indulge in the happy, magical feeling of it all. But doing so, I have to remind myself constantly that Christ’s arrival was never accompanied by such fanfare. Indeed, God has a habit of showing up unobtrusively where we never think to look for Him at all.
At church today, a woman nearby remarked, “Ah, this feels like Christmas!” She was referring to the bells and the carols we had just finished, and the festive atmosphere in my church. Indeed, it did feel like Christmas, and I was glad of it. But I am thinking today of the many people for whom it won’t “feel like Christmas” this year: those flipping burgers and serving customers, those looking at a newly-empty space at the dinner table, those hooked up to IV poles, those in an unfamiliar country, those overseas and at war. And I know that God will show up for them, too, in the same way that He showed up for unsuspecting and ordinary people in Bethlehem: unasked, unsought, in the middle of their terribly ordinary, trying, days.
Whether you are celebrating with all the bells and whistles, as I hope to be, or whether you fall into the category of people for whom it doesn’t “feel like Christmas” this year, I wish you the peace of knowing that the only thing Christmas requires is Christ. Regardless of where we are or what we are doing, believers possess the unique joy of realizing what God did to grow close to us.
And that’s all we need.