Everyone comes into the Christmas season with a lot of baggage. We all have disappointments and distractions that keep us from enjoying the actual meaning of Christmas. Sometimes it manifests itself in family issues from past wounds from familial strife to dealing with contentious in-laws. Sometimes it manifests itself in loneliness from unfilled expectations in relationships. Sometimes it manifests itself in the burden of attempting to please people with gifts. Sometimes it’s the cheapening of the holiday with endless television specials, fad toys, and commercials after commercials and yet more commercials. I know I for one have already seen enough diamond and luxury car commercials this thanksgiving weekend alone to get my fill (who buys their wife a luxury car for Christmas??)
My distraction at Christmas has been children.
Yes, those cherubic little symbols of Christmas. Those wide-eyed present-openers and candy-eaters. It all started last year when I was at a Christmas service and someone’s child sitting behind me continually kicked the pew. The thumping to my seat was out of rhythm with the music and the two to three kicks to my rear every measure made a polyrhythmic beat that would make any progressive rock band off kilter. I couldn’t concentrate on the music and it made me angry. Here I was trying to be solemn and ponder the Incarnation and all I could think about was that someone couldn’t control their toddler enough to make him. stop. kicking. my. seat. I resisted the urge to shoot a withering glare behind me and soothed my conscience that I was a such a good person for not causing a stir. Then, it happened again this weekend. This time we were here at my church and the church was having its first Christmas service of the season with children singing and a full orchestra playing. The music was beautiful, but again ruined by an out of control child in front of me that stood on his chair directly in front of me, jumped around, and yelled out loudly at random moments during the performance. I kept waiting for the parents to discipline the child and they tried feebly, but they looked haggard and worn down, as if they had been fighting the dragon all day long.
It was then that I thought to myself those awful, terrible words. That phrase that is unforgivable to anyone in my position.
“Well, if I was a parent…..”
If I was a parent, what? Did I really believe that my children, with neatly parted hair and blazer and tie or Christmas dress and perfect ringlets of hair would sit statue still through the entire performance and then at the end exclaim, “Oh father, that was wonderful! May we stop for ice cream on the way home, please?” I wondered if this was the same way I viewed Christmas itself, with smiling baby Jesus staring up at a smiling Joseph and Mary in a sanitary clean stable, with animals with Precious Moments eyes gazing lovingly on the whole scene. All of this of course, with plenty of room around them for gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh piled high. We are so good at sanitizing the dirty, ugly parts of life, aren’t we? Was a fooling myself that somehow I knew how to have perfectly behaved children and these poor fools in front of and behind me had no clue what they were doing? I’m not one to excuse poor parenting, but anyone who has children knows full well that some days they feel like being little angels and some days they feel like being little devils, no matter what discipline parents use out of the little book their parents gave them (and really, some days we feel like being little devils no matter what, too. We just hide it better by smiling and issuing backhanded compliments through clenched teeth and then tearing them up later over Instant Messenger with our friends.) How was I to know what kind of day the child was having?
I saw those parents and their unruly child and wondered why I was letting it ruin my Christmas and then I did something that I really should do more often. I prayed for them there. I prayed that whatever difficulties they were having with their child (maybe he has ADD, maybe he has a learning disability, maybe he’s just having a bad night) would be calmed. I prayed that the Lord would grant them peace. I prayed that the Lord would work on my rotten attitude.
One of the things that I love about the Methodist church is that it holds a “Hanging of the Greens” ceremony on the weekend before the first advent. At the ceremony, members of the church decorate the church with candles, wreaths, garland, and other church symbols and explain each of the items and their significance to Christmas and the congregation and choir sing some carols to get the season started. It’s all preparation for the month that is to come. I hope that the evening prepares my heart to have the right attitude for Christmas and maybe prepare me a little more for life in general.