One of my favorite modern Christmas movies is Christmas with the Kranks starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s an adaptation of Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. In this story, Luther Krank is worn out by Christmas, especially the constant parties, shopping, and hassle. He’s especially cranky about the social pressure his neighborhood puts on him to decorate his house. So he plans something different: a cruise for him and his wife. Essentially, Luther plans to skip Christmas.
Christmas Can Be Exhausting
If you haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil it for you, but this plan doesn’t exactly work out. What I like about Christmas with the Kranks is that it complains, in an exaggerated and humorous way, about how much stuff there is around Christmas that can exhaust. And it’s not just best-selling novelists and Hollywood producers telling this story. Often Christians find themselves complaining around December about how hectic their holiday season is and how they can’t wait until it’s all over.
A lot of Christians can be Kranks or, rather, cranks this time of year. Why is this? Perhaps it’s because we’ve succumbed to social pressure to attend or host a thousand parties. Or we’re wracked by pressure and guilt to have perfect gifts for everyone on our lists. Or it could be that we are mad because the harried and overworked cashier at Walmart said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The horror.
Whatever the motivations, it’s striking that Christians, who believe and bear the good news that God has visited us in Jesus, who have the opportunity to tell and retell to a watching world the story of God’s rescue and restoration, are the most cranky about it. It could be that Christmas seems Christless this year because of an increasingly secular world. Or perhaps it’s not the number crunchers on Madison Avenue or the secularists at the Harvard faculty lounge taking Christ out of Christmas but Christians who, overcome by angst and anger, have stopped radiating the joy of those who’ve encountered the Son of God.
Recapture the Joy and Wonder
So how do we recapture our joy and wonder? We do this by committing to spend time every day of this season contemplating the wonder of the incarnation and embedding ourselves in the events the gospel writers tell us. The original story is anything but sentimental. Jesus entered a world rife with as much cynicism and violence and corruption as the one we read about on our social media timelines. That first Christmas was both beautiful and violent, sweet and subversive.
We who believe this story to be more than Hallmark feels should be among the most joyful souls come December. Consider the reaction of the shepherds to Jesus: they awed, they bowed, they shared. Or the response of the Magi, who traveled a great distance: they knelt, they gave, they worshipped. And so should we.
This doesn’t mean Christmas produces plastic smiles. Quite often December evokes hard memories of family dysfunction or reminders of loneliness and pain. To see Jesus on Christmas is to have God visit us in our distress, in a broken world. It is to understand that the baby born to us came to experience the full range of humanity and then defeat the sin and death that have corrupted life after Eden.
The annual ritual of Christmas can both shape us with its spiritual rhythms and produce in us a kind of resolute, realistic joy. Because we can’t really do as John Grisham imagined. We can’t skip Christmas, and we shouldn’t really want to.