Kehrberg: Strategies for Scrooge
Santa knows that we’re God’s children, that makes everything right. — Gene Autry, “Here Comes Santa Claus”
I considered writing some kind of reflection on the political climate here in the United States.
Then I decided to take a sabbatical. A break from “locker-room talk,” 33,000 emails and critical issues with no realistic solutions.
Instead, my mind moves to the upcoming holidays. So much more restful.
Should it concern me that each year I look down the road that winds through the holiday season and feel only dread?
This malaise is mostly due to the epic to-do list mandated by the holidays. I’ve tried to address this in multiple ways.
One year I won’t send out the annual Christmas letter and photo. Another year I’ll simplify gift giving by buying everyone a section of a heifer bound for some international locale. At some point we quit traveling to see both sides of the family. I never decorate beyond a tree and some nativity scenes.
It hasn’t made a difference. Nothing makes a dent in the desire to fast forward to Jan. 2.
But I’m no quitter. This year I’ve embraced a few new strategies to un-Scrooge myself.
I’m admitting up front that the holidays are not, after all, a time of peace and joy. There may be pockets of well-being, but for the most part, “holiday spirit” translates to “stressed out.”
Holiday madness is fueled by a truckload of expectations, almost all unrealistic and unattainable. By admitting defeat at the outset, I hope to enjoy the marathon lollygagging in the rear.
I have got to stop watching the holiday movies, TV specials and commercials. They fuel holiday myths that make us miserable.
Where are the kitchen counters smeared with turkey grease and celery tops? Where is the sleeping-bag-strewn floor, the uncomfortable pull-out couch? Who is decorating the houses? Could the gift bar be raised any higher?
I’m also trying to separate the secular and the spiritual. Jesus is not, actually, the reason for the North American holiday season. Decorating, Christmas cards, football games, gift giving — none of it has anything to do with Immanuel coming to Earth.
In truth, many of us squirm through the holidays, feeling complicit in perpetuating an inauthentic, commercialized faith.
Last year, on a whim, I pulled a book of Advent readings off a bookshelf in the children’s Sunday school department supply closet. When our family read the assigned scripture together, I was impressed by the disconnect between my daily activities and the powerful and timeless words of the Old Testament prophets.
Around that same time, I told my 4-year-old we were “waiting for Jesus to be born.” After hearing the Christmas story ad nauseam at church and preschool, he was confused.
“No, Jesus was already born.”
He’s right, obviously. Yet the four weeks of Advent are all about waiting and preparation. How do you wait for something that already happened?
The secular world waits and prepares for Santa and Christmas Day. Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. Past tense. We wait for the full knowledge of the kingdom of God.
We are reminded of this in a special way during Advent. But like the virgins and their lit lamps, we should never cease our watchful waiting.
In the meantime, we love by giving, receiving, traveling and food prep. We create and maintain traditions that sustain us.
With the drummer boy, Baby Jesus smiles at us.
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.
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