There is something relational, comforting and peaceful about well-worn stories, especially at Christmas. They’re part of the traditions we share and pass on. Who remembers “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Christmas Hallmark Channel movies? They touch something in each of us. The same goes for the Christmas stories in our church traditions — faith narratives that have held captive those hearts that drink from the depths of the comfort, peace and hope they provide, especially at this time of year. But it gets hard to put a new face on an ancient text, to give a fresh approach on something so ancient, seemingly so disconnected from where we live, so well worn and familiar. I doubt I’ll be able to add anything new, but bear with me.
Have you noticed that part of the storyline in most of the movies mentioned is an element of tension or conflict? And while this tension is resolved, love found, happiness experienced, people brought together, an “all-is-well-in-my-world” ending, our life experience just doesn’t match up, does it? We know that reality isn’t like the movies, nor the story book endings. Not everything turns out the way we want. The reality is the tension often continues, life isn’t the way we expected it to be, relationships are hard and difficult at times, marriage takes work, not everyone will like you and there are things you can’t control. And on top of all that simmering stew, now it’s Christmas with all the prep work, the house work, meals to prepare, the in-laws, relatives, friends coming over and time is running out. Where did all the time go? Who’s going to help?
Have you experienced any of this? Do you think you’ll get through this season without tension and conflict? Hardly a chance. In truth, the possibility increases because of the hidden unresolved tensions and agendas in each of us. These make it difficult to navigate the waters of the holiday season, especially when snarky comments, childish misunderstandings, squabbling kids (young or old) or outright hostility fray your last nerve. It’s those triggers that set us off and we all have them.
So we get exhausted acting as peace maker, trying to control situations and conversations that cause tensions because in those hidden recesses of our hearts we want the happiness, unity and freedom portrayed in Hallmark Channel movies and Norman Rockwell paintings of tranquil, simpler and seemingly happier times. We want to be loved and respected, cherished and cared for. We want to minimize family conflict, strengthen relationships, learn to communicate better. Yet each year it’s the same. It takes work and a power greater than we have on our own. So it’s with our ancient “church” stories that we are reminded that Jesus was born as our living hope and that in Him all things are possible, even a change in your squabbling, grown kids.
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Scripture teaches that so far as it depends on you, live in peace with one another (Romans 12:18). You have a choice how you respond to the turmoil around you. If it takes protecting your heart and mind, leave the situation, remove yourself from the conversation, the table, the house if you have to. When you “lose it” and blow everyone out of the water, own up to your mistake and apologize, leaving out the “but.” Remember also that how someone responds or reacts to what you say is not your issue. How you say it is, but not their reaction. So take a deep breath before you speak. Also look at the holidays realistically, not as you wished they would could be, but how they are. Temper your expectations with reality.
Finally, remember Jesus was born as our living hope. For the church, the story of Jesus birth brings an assurance of hope, peace and promise into a dark world, and we need that. Ancient as it may be, it is timeless in the principles it teaches. And its those principles that root us in the living God. He can change any situation in your life if you ask Him into the midst of it.
The Rev. Norm Hooven can be reached at revnorm@ juno.com.