Most of us struggle to find it, to feel it, to know, to experience it… that special feeling of Christmas when there is a sense of joy in the air, peace in the heart, and benevolence in the wallet. The Christmas Spirit is elusive in the midst of the hectic pace of modern life. It’s sometimes hard to capture, even harder to hold for more than just a moment in time. It seems to me that it was easier to lay hold of as a child. There were school plays and gift exchanges and constant reminders of the season with each carefully-crayoned winter landscape or every hand-made construction paper ornament. The excitement built through the month of December until the glorious release of Christmas break when the schedule altered and the focused turned to the presents collecting under the tree. Ask any kid how many days till Christmas and they will answer with exacting measurement.
But it’s different for adults. It’s hard to escape the stress of the season long enough to capture a moment or two of its glory. Maybe it’s because the “success” of the season rests more on our shoulders than it once did as children. We have to consider things like budgets, travel, meals to prepare, houses to clean, and presents to wrap. It’s easy to let the Spirit seep away without ever holding it for very long. When I was a pastor, the Christmas season was intense. There were sermons to write, services to plan, hospitals to visit, and articles to author. In fact, I often found myself settling into my recliner late on Christmas Eve, after the final Service of the season was put to rest, before I actually relaxed and let the Spirit wash over me. Sometimes the Christmas Spirit would find its way into my life in the midst of the craziness of the season. Somewhere in the writing of words, or structuring of a service, or the listening to the music of season I would find it. But not always.
It is interesting to me how most of us strive to capture the season in our hearts. We listen non-stop to Christmas music. We decorate the house to excess. We shop until both our bodies and purses are exhausted. We bake. We wrap. We eat. But still, so often we find ourselves a day or so after Christmas morning wondering how another year passed us by without our ever really getting into the spirit of things. Charlie Brown once mused to Linus about the “commercialization” of Christmas… and that was decades ago when the 30-minute cartoon presentation first came on the air. Even now when I watch those old reruns, I get a little nostalgic for the simpler days and the slower pace.
My wife and I do a few things to put ourselves in the Christmas mood. She bakes a lot of really good pumpkin bread and it brings her joy to give it away to family and friends. This year she made Christmas cookies with our oldest granddaughter, Hannah Rae. It brought both of them a lot of gladness. One of the things I enjoy doing is taping all of the Christmas cards we receive to the wall outside our kitchen. It’s nice to be reminded of family and friends. I also like to set out the Christmas china on the dining room table. Can’t explain why that brings me some joy… maybe a reminder of the way my mom always set the grandest table at Christmas.
I’m not sure there is any one “set-in-stone” answer for capturing the Christmas Spirit. But the most fool-proof answer that I can offer is bound up in the idea of giving yourself away. Perhaps we are most like our Father each Christmas when we value the satisfaction and pleasure it brings us to give something important to someone in need. It may be that you give your spouse a special, well-thought out gift that is much appreciated but unexpected. Maybe it’s the check you write to a non-profit that is making a difference in your community. Maybe it’s in the time you offer as a volunteer this season to brighten someone’s day. All I know is this… until you offer the gift of your heart, your life, your energy, and your resources to bring hope, encouragement, or peace to a troubled life or situation, you will never fully capture the Spirit of the season. So, think outside of yourself… think outside of the box… think outside of your comfort zone, and see if the joy of the season doesn’t sneak up on you in some special and mysterious way.
-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director