Friday, December 7, 2012

The Sinister Side of Christmas by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Somber

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear from any greeting card companies, candy makers, electronics manufacturers, or toy stores accusing me of ruining the Christmas spirit and cutting into their Yuletide profits.  Just because I am being slightly grouchy calling for greater introspection doesn’t mean I don’t still wholeheartedly endorse the giving and receiving of big, extravagant Christmas gifts.

Hello.  My name is Sharon Lurie, and I’m a grinchaholic.  (And the entire blogosphere responded with a hearty, “Hi, Sharon.”)  In all seriousness, I don’t have a lot of happy memories of holidays past.  I don’t normally talk about it, because I don’t always get the most helpful of responses, especially when I say how little I have enjoyed the mother of all holidays: Christmas.

My Christian friends tell me that Christmas is all about light, love, joy, family, gift-giving, yada-yada-ya and I need to change my attitude and be all jingle-bellish.  My Jewish friends, Messianic and non-Messianic alike, tell me I shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it has pagan origins, tree worship is punishable by stoning, etc.  My atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, and religiously-disgruntled friends tell me that Christmas is a secret plot of capitalists and right-wing conspirators to wipe out the middle class by saddling them with unnecessary debt in the name of celebrating the birth of a person who may not have existed.  So, I have avoided the subject, and done everything I could to fight the Christmas funk, from travelling for the holidays to therapy to cooking dinner for the homeless.  In recent days, however, I have witnessed a level of hopelessness among friends and strangers towards the approaching holiday I have never seen before.  Many people I have talked to are ashamed to admit how much they hate this time of year because of the rebukes they receive from Christians who tell them to “stop being a Scrooge.”  I know how deep it runs for some, having worked the prayer phone hotlines on the holidays in the past, when the suicide calls are at their highest, and hearing the despair the holiday causes.  Therefore, for the sake of all of those who feel more alone this time of year than any other, I share my story.

I have for many years associated Christmas with tension and loss.  Romantic relationships going terribly wrong.  Having to deal with people who may or may not be related to me by blood or marriage who, for whatever reason, enjoy ruining Christmas, holidays, birthdays, and any kind of special events by starting fights or staging international incidents.  People I love dying.  Or just having to be alone at a time when community and family are celebrated.  For example:  Christmas 1996.  I was in a car wreck three days before Christmas that totaled my car and left me with a busted knee and a concussion.  My boyfriend at the time took care of me and we spent Christmas Day together.  The next day, he dumped me with no explanation.  Unfortunately, this was one of my more enjoyable Christmases.  So, over the years, I have just stopped talking about how unhappy Christmas has been for me, because talking about it seldom brought comfort but rather ridicule from those who, nine times out of ten, never had any tragedy or loneliness associated with the holidays.  This year, I have lost five friends and loved ones—including my mom—and so as Christmas has approached, I have felt both the sadness of the losses leading up to the holiday season, and the isolation from feeling that I was wrong for feeling so grief-stricken at a time of year that is such an emotional high for most Christians.  Then I read something that showed me my melancholy wasn’t as inappropriate as I thought.

In the book Waking the Dead, author John Eldredge talks about the spiritual battle every believer faces.  He emphasizes that believers are often painted an incorrect picture of the Christian life; we are told that all will be smooth sailing if we follow God.  In regards to Christmas, he says we are too often presented with the Gospel accounts of a sleepy Jewish town and a quaint, picture-perfect birth of the Savior, when in fact, what actually happened was more along the lines of what we read in Revelation 12:

“AND A great sign (wonder)--[warning of future events of ominous significance] appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and with a crownlike garland (tiara) of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant and she cried out in her birth pangs, in the anguish of her delivery.  Then another ominous sign (wonder) was seen in heaven: Behold, a huge, fiery-red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven kingly crowns (diadems) upon his heads.  His tail swept [across the sky] and dragged down a third of the stars and flung them to the earth. And the dragon stationed himself in front of the woman who was about to be delivered, so that he might devour her child as soon as she brought it forth.  And she brought forth a male Child, One Who is destined to shepherd (rule) all the nations with an iron staff (scepter), and her Child was caught up to God and to His throne.  And the woman [herself] fled into the desert (wilderness), where she has a retreat prepared [for her] by God, in which she is to be fed and kept safe for 1,260 days (42 months; three and one-half years).

Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels went forth to battle with the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought.”

Not the kind of imagery one finds on a Christmas card or in the yearly church Christmas cantata.  On the off chance the aforementioned tale doesn’t jump off the page to you, the reader, let me paraphrase:

“A young woman, full of promise and loved by God, is expecting a child.  She is all alone, except for the hope she has carried inside her for nine long months.  The time to deliver has come, the time of expectation that everyone says to her should be the happiest time of her life.  But it’s not, because the Enemy, that Thief of Hearts and Destroyer of Dreams is standing by, ready to snatch the object of her hope and all she holds dear before she even has the chance to hold it in her arms.  As the birth pangs overtake her, she watches helplessly as the Dragon polishes his fangs and licks his chops.  The merciful thing to do would be to devour her first, and spare her the anguish of having to watch her only child’s life be so cruelly snuffed out.  However, the Dragon cares little for mercy.  He not only wants to destroy the girl and her child, he wants it to hurt in the worst way possible.”

The first Christmas was bloody, full of strife, anguish, loss, and uncertainty.  While most of us have never faced a literal fire-breathing dragon for the holidays, some of us can relate to the emotions behind the story.  Losing everything precious to us suddenly and without warning.  Having grief stacked upon grief until it all topples down, crushing the bereaved in its suffocating wake.  Feeling inconsolable during what should be a time of joy and expectation.  Bracing ourselves for a fight that could break out at any moment.  This is the backdrop of Christmas.  This is how the Savior of all mankind entered the world.

Jesus wasn’t qualified to be our High Priest, the One Who could sympathize with us in our weaknesses, sorrows, and struggles, until He lived a human life.  It’s comforting to think that He was willing to and did experience everything I have, including crappy holidays.

For the first time since I became a Christian, I am looking forward to Christmas, even though I have lost more this year than in all the previous 25 years combined.  And for those who have shared my lack of Yuletide sentiment, I offer this:  all that advice to be happy for Christmas because it’s all about twinkling stars, gracefully falling snow, so on and so forth, is hogwash.  On the contrary, the reason to have joy in this season is because that first Christmas was so awful.  We talk about all Jesus bore on the cross for us, but the truth is He bore our sins, sorrows, brokenness, and disappointments from the moment He entered this world as one of us.  That, beloved ones, is the sinister side of Christmas, and that is the view of the season we should choose to embrace.

The End