Thursday, December 18, 2014

Going For Broke

Christmas makes me misty eyed.  Oh. Wait.  I got that wrong.  That should say, Christmas leaves me mystified.  Before you have me removed from western civilization, please let me explain.  I love Jesus.  I love everything about Him even though I don't understand everything about Him.  It's just His birthday that leaves me a bit confused.  No, this isn't your typical rant about Christmas shoppers who check their soul at the door when they hit the mall.  They don't bother me, primarily because I do not go to the mall.  I use to think they were pretty cool places.  Not so much these days.  The last mall I liked was an outdoor one in the suburbs of Cleveland.  It was a cozy little place called "Crocker Park."  It is a bit of an enigma that an outdoor place in Cleveland could be called cozy in December.  But it was cozy in that "I love everything about winter" kind of way.  This place had outdoor chess sets on stone pedestals surrounded by faux leather chairs.  I use to watch men ... grown men ... sit in those chairs and play chess as the snow fell.  True, there were big fire-filled heaters blazing near them.  But come on.  The great "north coast" in the winter would make the most hardy St. Louis souls whimper in torment.  Forgive me but I thought it rather wonderful.

But I digress.

The thing that mystifies me about Christmas is that we all seem to embark on this quest to make each one perfect.  No, we cannot control whether or not we will have a white Christmas. (Sorry, Bing.  We haven't figured it out yet.)  We do not pretend to be able to stop the wars or the violence in the streets even for a day.  There will always be things out of our control.  Still, do you feel what I feel?  It's some kind of driving force inside of me that wants to make certain positive memories are made. And that means that everything has to be just right.  In my personal situation, I have to know that I preached the right sermons to our congregation.  I have to know that my kids and my grandkids are happy.  In reality, those fall into two separate and distinct spectrums.  Grandkids fall into the "buy me something" category.  They want the coolest new toy.  (I agree with them!)  My kids, all but one now venturing into their thirties, want that thing called "Cash."  My wife wants nothing and strongly insists that I give it to her.  I, in turn, refuse.  Because that would wreck my vision of perfection on Christmas Day.  So, you see, it's all about me after all. 

I think I digressed again.

I am not in charge of the food and so I cannot make it perfect.  But ... if it is not perfect I do make a note of it and I'll covertly do anything I can to fix that problem next year.  No body wants to remember an uncooked turkey.  (I'm looking at you, Hokkaido.)

I suppose I am looking for laughter.  And smiles.  And genuine joy.  I am trying to distance myself and my family from sadness.  Conflict.  The kind of sarcasm that hurts.  (I love the playful kind.  I suppose, to me, it is all about intent.  Always design sarcasm to make both parties laugh.  Never intend for it to cut or wound.  Well intentioned sarcasm is a gift.  Sarcasm with evil intent can destroy a soul.) 

When I stop and give it room to roam in my brain I think maybe, as one year was grinding into another, I finally grew up.  As a youth pastor for 33 years life usually allowed me to fly rather Peter Pan-ish most of the time.  And then one day my phone became the one to ring when tragedy would strike. It changed everything.  I am not the same person I use to be.  No need to go into all of that.  Let me just say that dealing with the extreme cost that life extracts reminds me of the best advice I ever received about living.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

And the main thing is Jesus.

I cannot help but smile when I see my family walk into my home, safe, warm, happy.  Yet I confess that many times I pretend that I know what they are talking about as conversations whirls around the many venues of popular culture.  I use to pay a lot more attention to that stuff than I do now. I seem to have lost interest.  It is not that I would declare those things unimportant or shallow. Life must be lived and that clearly requires the intentional or unintentional creation of a culture within which to live it.  Still, these days my mind is a million miles away.  The greatest joy in Christmas for me is connecting with the one we often forget we are celebrating. Truth be told, it is not just Christmas.  Most days I seem to crave the Audience of One over the party of many.

I hope to invite Jesus to my Christmas table again this year. I believe He shows up, though I never see Him.  Knowing He is there makes the smiles of my family and friends more vivid.  It makes the food taste better.  It even makes the dead grass - sans a blanket of fresh white snow - acceptable. There is very little that I want or need for Christmas this year.  But there is one thing I passionately desire.  If I get it, Christmas will be perfect.

I am going for broke.  I simply want ... The Main Thing.