A too short season ends with longing

Like many of you, the days leading up to Christmas day are my favorite of the entire year. The rush and keening torrents of activities, parties, and family get-togethers. As the old carol says: it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

At the same time, the first few days following Christmas are my least favorite.

I don’t know what it is exactly but there’s a certain forlorn weariness that comes over me. Not so much a melancholy, though I am already hearing such sentiments being expressed by friends, relatives, and co-workers. It’s just a sighing relief, tinged with wistfulness…  like the summer’s over and school’s back in session.

My family’s Christmas festivities were hosted at my home again this year and it was wonderful. My extended family is large, and a rather spirited crew. Like some sort of weird juxtaposition of the first act of Fanny & Alexander combined with Robert Earl Keene’s “Merry Christmas from the Family.” Yeah…  that’s about the only way I can describe it succinctly without digressing even more.

One of my Roman Catholic friends told me that, were I part of his tradition, I would have almost two weeks worth of Christmas to celebrate, but I bet that’s a pretty hard sell with the management. One day off for Christmas is all I’m gonna get.

I suppose it’s natural. After all, a person can have too much of a good thing or way too much of a mediocre thing, or even diabolically too much of a lousy thing. But the party has got to end sometime and one’s responsibilities are always waiting, crouched in the corner.

However, I wonder if there isn’t something deeper at work. Christmas night, after we’d arrived home quite late from a post-church nightcap at my parents house, my youngest daughter drowsily asked what was next. “Now what?” she said. “Christmas is over…  now what?

I don’t know if it was the overabundance of “Christmas cheer” I’d enjoyed over the last 36-hour period or simple exhaustion, but I was quite unable to respond.

Finally, after a long beat, I replied that now we get ready for the New Year, then the onset of the all-too-brief Wintertime in East Texas. But she wasn’t buying it, she wanted to know where this grand build up of the season was heading. I have to admit, so do I.

Since the early rumblings of All Hallows Eve in early Autumn (through the brief hiatus of Thanksgiving) and now into the last slim glimmers of the year, the days have passed at a dizzying and breakneck pace.

Now Christmas, having ravished our community and left us all somewhat dazed in its wake, roars on down the road with its bright lights and joyful sounds echoing into the dark of night.

Perhaps this longing is helpful. Perhaps it is woven into our very being, this longing. Maybe we’re supposed to desire more than can be found in even “the most wonderful time” of our short earth-bound lives. Perhaps we’re supposed to drink deep of our temporal joys, and find that our thirst is far from quenched.

Even as the anticipation of the birth of our blessed Savior is but a shadow of His greater return yet to come, so too does this longing reveal that we have much greater things to anticipate than another year of holiday cheer.

Another year of hoping for the latest electronic peripheral can’t fill the groaning loneliness within our souls that know we were created for more than whatever dim pleasures we can extract from seven or eight brief decades upon this spinning orb.

Though our good and great God gives us a great abundance of such things to enjoy, they are simply the expressions of His generosity as well as ours…  but gifts and celebrations themselves are not designed to satisfy. They’re designed to point us to the Giver. Gifts are like sunbeams. We are not meant to love sunbeams but the Sun.

Putting our hope in gifts will leave us empty.

Many people live their lives looking for the right “sunbeam” to make them happy. But if we depend on anything in the world to satisfy our soul’s deepest desire, it will eventually leave us with that post-Christmas soul-ache. Like my sweet four-year-old daughter, we will all ask: “So now what?” because we know deep down that’s not all there is. We are designed to treasure a Person, not His things.

It’s just like God to let the glitter and flash of the celebrations (even those held in His honor!) to pass and then to come to us in the quiet, even melancholic void they leave. Because often that’s when we are most likely to understand the hope He intends for us to have at Christmas.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and I wish you all health and much blessing for this swiftly coming year.

More than this, though, I wish you to cling tighter to our mighty Lord, from Whom all such blessing flows.

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