I didn’t really want anything explicitly “Christiany”, like the Nativity story; I actually just wanted something, y’know, “Christmassy”. I wanted something which drew me into the Christmas traditions of bygone ages, something that caught me up in the season. Descriptions of old scenes, festivities, songs, meals, stories, snow, scarves, puddings, presents, carols. All that old stuff. And, of course, I wanted to read something Christmassy whilst eating something Christmassy (otherwise you’re only half-committed to your Christmassyness). So I did the proper thing and shunned the microwave, I waited for the oven to heat up (a wait indeed), all so that the glorious homemade mince pie doesn’t do that abominable thing that microwaves make them do, where they erupt into a mini volcano of mince-lava.
It only works at Christmas.
And although the Christmas/Xmas debate rages on, I can’t help but think that it’s no coincidence that the gloriously lavish trappings we still associate with Christmassyness first occurred because they actually did have something to do with the One who brings true joy to all humankind. Indeed, when I went scouring the bookshelves for not-necessarily-“Christian” Christmassyness, I realised that I couldn’t escape the “Christ” in Christmas, after all; that the ousted king of Christmas – the champion who seemed to have lost his title – is actually still on the throne, and still humanity’s only hope. Indeed, anything good and joyful and excellent that we can appreciate in Christmas is actually just a dim reflection of the fact that he is the source of all joy, that he made the world to be enjoyed like that, that he made human beings with the capacity to enjoy it, and – more emphatically – to enjoy him, in whom alone true joy may be found, and found in abundance. It is this same abundance that has always characterised this glorious season of joyful feasting, all the mince pies, the bucks fizz (for breakfast…), the jubilant singing, the over-competitive board games, the Christmas specials, the Sinatra jingle bells, The Snowman, the puddings (which no one really eats), the turkey leftovers, the Home Alone marathons (only I & II, of course) – all of it is all a testament to the real joy we seek. The melancholy note, of course, is that at the end of it all, we find that it was just a season after all, a déjà vu of hope in the bleak midwinter.
And when it doesn’t (because it doesn’t), everything we associate with Christmassyness suddenly tastes all the more bitter, like it’s really just a gigantic practical joke, all dolled-up in fairy lights. When we yearn for “something Christmassy” – which even the most despairing person has done at some point in their life – we are hungering for something real. For real community. For beautiful experiences. For purpose and meaning. For feelings of unhinged joy that don’t bite back the next morning. For lasting, abundant peace. For a world that makes sense. For a world that chimes with the longings of our hearts.
We are drug addicts, all of us. We crave joy. We live off it. But we often spend our lives living off tasters and samples rather than the real thing. Those things – which we seek most overtly in our Christmassyness – still testify that we need more. Just so you know, for those of you looking on, those perhaps sensing something in this pursuit of joy but who hunger for something deeper – Jesus really is that real thing. Ask your occasionally annoying Christian friends and they will tell you. But you won’t meet this real thing by eating a mince pie (however heavenly-baked), or even singing a song. They might be your aides, but they are not it, they are not him, the him who was God, the him who is God. Go and talk again to the people who claim to know this him. Get along to those places where they sing to this him, where they pray to this him; listen to the words that this him spoke, hear the message this him proclaims to your souls. Probe him, interrogate him, ask him every question you need to ask – but then be prepared to hear the questions he might ask you, too. And then wait. Listen and wait. Really listen and really wait. Because the craziest thing of all about this him – this him of whom the carolers sing “Joy To The World” – is that he really is the joy of the world, he really is the somethingmore that the lost world craves.
For those of you who think you’ve heard all the sermons you’re ever going to hear, who will continue looking for joy in Christmassyness alone, can I urge you to listen for him again? Even if just this once. Go on, I dare you...