Every year in this season I have a little fight with myself. I dread the pressure of the Christmas gift-buying season. I don’t feel very confident that my purchases will match loved ones’ expectations (though they are not at all hard to please). Normally, I love being around people, but I feel intimidated and prickly around Christmas shopping crowds.
My mind drifts to those who suffer from loneliness and grief, especially this time of year, even while I rejoice to gather with fellow disciples of Jesus to proclaim the “glad tidings of great joy.” I tried watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” the other evening, but when the drunken druggist started slapping around young George Bailey (even though I’ve seen it dozens of times), I had to change channels.
We can feel his presence.
All those store associates standing at cash registers no doubt are instructed to be extra polite for this season, but there is that one who seems to stand out. Something about her says “peace” and exudes a little aura of extraordinary calm in the midst of the bee hive of shopping.
And while I’m stressing over being late (again) with the Christmas letter, one arrives to us in the mail from a friend far away in another country. It comes with the sweet aroma of a settled soul, one who has his priorities straight and, though candid about his own struggles, gives faithful witness to living in the presence of Jesus.
And in the middle of all the goofy Christmas songs that artists and performers feel driven to release and radio stations dutifully play, here and there we hear the strains of “Silent Night” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” By comparison to the noise and glare of the commercial season, they fall quietly but powerfully on our ears. If we’re listening.
Maybe this experience captures best for me the paradox of the season. I now know what a “flashmob” is, thanks to friends and family. I don’t frequent youtube much, but this one really got me.
I know it was staged. I know it can seem contrived and even collectively narcissistic, but it got to me. It happened in a foodcourt in a mall in Portland, Oregon (I think). As one watches the video, one hears the strains of Handel’s “Messiah” coming over the mall speakers. Then a young woman, feigning talk on her cell phone, stands up and starts singing the chorus. And then a young man arises to join her, from across the foodcourt. And then a man and a woman, up in years, stand to sing. And then another and another, popping up all over the place, until there is a full chorus, as if in worship.
The camera pans around the foodcourt, landing on spectators. Most of them have somewhat surprised smiles on their faces. They enjoy the moment. I want to believe that a few of the singers impromptu joined in the flashmob, because they know the songs from singing in the Christmas cantata. But even if every person who stood to sing was co-conspirator, to hear that chorus made me weep.
“For the Lord God, Omnipotent reigneth! Hallelujah!”
“The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever!”