I used to like Christmas. No, really there was a time in my life when it couldn’t get any better than Christmas. I remember the excitement, anticipation and all the good that made Christmas special. See for me, it would start around Thanksgiving. That marked about 30 days to the big day. I would go to school and we would start doing Christmas worksheets, Mom would start decorating the house and things would start to take on a fresh outlook of optimism. Then, as Christmas would get closer, my family would pile in the truck and go to see Santa Clause at the local retail store. Man would there be a line. But I would gladly endure the wait and the cold in that line for my turn to tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas. Man, how things change.
As I grew older I still liked Christmas but instead of it being what it was to me as a child, Christmas seemed to start becoming a marker in time. In high school, Christmas became “Christmas vacation”, a couple of weeks with no class and an opportunity to hang out with my friends a little later at night and a few nights other than the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I still celebrated Christmas, but it was different to me at this point.
As high school turned to college, Christmas became even more different. Being exposed to more people, different beliefs and traditions, I started to really question some of the points of Christmas as presented by the modern Christian church. I guess this was my own time of enlightenment. It was during my college years that I learned Christmas was based around a pagan celebration of Christmas and It was at this point that I started to wrestle with its validity in a Christian world.
But as time went on, I settled this issue to my own satisfaction and moved on with life, or life moved on with me.
As I left college, and took on the responsibility of adulthood, Christmas really changed for me. No longer was it a great time of celebration but had become a rushed holiday. A holiday, that if it fell on the right day of the week I could actually have 2 days off of work. And it was during this time that it was becoming a victim of Political Correctness. You know what I mean. Companies started encouraging the well wishing of the season thru saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. This was a time that started the great debates of Christmas trees and Nativity scenes in the town square. In addition to this, the responsibility of a family and making sure all the needs and wants were met there added additional stress I had come to dislike. And remember my statement about liking to wait in the line to see Santa and how things changed. Boy, did they ever.
You see, my entire working life I have worked around lines of people. By doing so I have formed my own opinion about lines and what they represent, (more on that later) but for now, just note, that I do not like nor have the patience for lines. Each year I plan how to avoid the lines of Christmas. The lines that test patience, strain relationships and destroy budgets. The lines that drain precious time from our lives. The lines we blindly stand in as if we were animals headed to the slaughter. The lines that in some way distort what I remember Christmas being when I was a child. How did things get so out of whack?
What do I mean?
Let’s revisit the Santa Clause line. This was my most favorite memory. Why? Because it was simple. I waited, I told Santa what I wanted and l left. But today this has become a big production. Parents spend money on outfits for the child to come see Santa in, professional photography is involved. Grandparents are involved. Three or four helpers are involved. The whole process seems to me to be just that, a process. Kid in, picture taken, card swipped, kid out, next kid. I hope that somewhere between the posing and lights flashing that the child gets the opportunity to tell Santa what he wants. To me this seems to cheat the child out of a special time that should be about the child.
The next line:
Have you been to your local retail supermart lately? It is a madhouse. Here we have a 100,000 sq ft building packed to brim with any and everything you need for the Christmas celebration. But instead of being a common shopping facility adequately equipped to handle the patrons, it has become like the Santa line. Well like the Santa line with one difference. Numerous doors exist to get you in but usually about half of the registers are working to get you out. Lines form with 20 or 30 people deep, Each waiting to take the next step, a step closer to the register, a step closer to his turn. And do you think the business cares? Probably not, as we wait in line we have more opportunity to think about other things to purchase. And while we wait, do we build relationships with people in the line or just treat them as necessary evils between us and our turn as we count the items in their cart.
Other lines I can’t stand are the ones at restaurants. I approach the hostess, “how long is the wait?’ 1 hour at the minimum. Get real. In my world any restaurant that is worth waiting an hour to get a table at takes reservations. But people wait, they wait for an hour or 2 hours. They sit in the cold acting as if no other options to dine exist. I understand this is a matter of personal choice or desire, but it makes no sense to me to wait that long to be seated and forfeit to the restaurant $50 plus for the meal, when they paid you nothing to wait.
The sad part of all of this is that these circumstances have left me somewhat cynical towards Christmas and at times it carries into my home. I often feel that the Christian celebration of Christmas is slowly reverting back to the pagan roots. Lavish gifts and big parties tend to drown out the peacefulness of the occasion. Even the cherished day of Christmas for some has become a rest day for the next round of lines.
The next round:
Boy, here we go again. 4:am and people are lined up like the day after Thanksgiving. And for what?, the big after Christmas sales. For some it is the attempt to purchase Christmas decorations at a deep discount. But does anyone find the bounty of bargains they are looking for? Don’t these people realize that with inventory tracking software and IRS inventory deadlines that businesses usually order just enough items to run out just before Christmas. In addition to these hardy souls, you will find the people waiting in line to return the gifts that they received which were not the right size, color or brand name. I don’t understand this. Is the 26th of December the only day returns can be made? Does standing in line for 2 or 3 hours to return something win an award or better price. Why not wait til the next weekend to return the item?
Oh, and who can forget the gift card recipients. Cash in the hand. Not for long. And what do most people buy with gift cards? I am not sure the answer, but I would guess 80% of the gift cards are redeemed within 3 days of Christmas . And while I am on the subject of Gift cards, I have a question. What happened to picking out a gift for a person. To me it seems that the advent of the gift card has moved us from, “ it is the thought that counts”, to ,”it is the amount that counts”. Totally not what Christmas is about. But without failure, The day after Christmas we rush to get back in line, why?
For years I have wondered this as I watch the stock market move in anticipation of what people will spend at Christmas and see the market’s reaction with each store's report of earnings. Indexes measure the confidence and lines show the profit and loss. As I have grown older and grown in my profession, Christmas seems to be getting dangerously close to being nothing more than a quantitative measure of how people feel about their state of life and security. Because of this, I dangerously get close to thinking that Christmas is just another day of the week.
Then I am reminded that after Jesus was born, the angels sang.
Why don’t we? Where is our Christmas spirit?
Just as I get close to the edge, something happens to change my perspective, to change my attitude, to make me look beyond what I see.
A few years it was a song. I came home from work and my wife followed me to my office. She simply told me to goto youtube, there was something I needed to hear. What I needed to hear was a song entitled “Where's the line to see Jesus?”.
Wow, Hearing that song really got me thinking. In all of this chaos, in all of this cynicism, where is the line for Jesus or is Jesus just slowly fading to the background. For days I struggled with the words of this song and the question it posed. I could not let it go, or was it that it would not let me go. All my anxieties and frustration of the season seemed to pass away as I struggled to wrap my arms around what God was trying to tell me through this song.
Here is my response, not really an answer, but a response.
Even before his birth lines formed. Mary was at the risk of accusation when she was found to be with child. Angry lines formed for it appeared she had broken the law, ironically, she was carrying the fulfillment of the law.
At his birth, shepherds lined up to see his presence. Simple shepherds. Men that knew the meaning of personal sacrifice, men that knew the meaning of putting something weaker (lamb) before their own self. Men that would later be the example of Jesus’ relationship to us.
Nearly 2 years later, Three men from the east, called kings or wise men or whatever, followed the star. They came to the house in which Mary, Joseph and Jesus were living. They brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
At the start of His ministry, his disciples lined up as he called them. They called him, “Teacher’. Later they would call him Christ, the Messiah.
As Jesus continued His ministry people would line the streets to see him. As His teachings became known the lines turned into crowds and the crowds turned into multitudes and the multitudes turned into followers.
At the end of his ministry, people lined the streets as he entered Jerusalem, hailing him as king. Later the lines turned into a mob that sought his life.
As he was tried, people lined up to beat him, hurl stones at him and ridicule him.
As he was Crucified, people lined up to see if he would come off the cross, to see if he was really all that he said he was.
As he ascended after rising from the dead, the ones with him in the beginning lined up and watched him go to the Father. They knew that he was Truth.
And after his ascension, for most, life went back to normal.
If you look at how we treat Christmas today, it is sort of how Jesus was treated. Early in fall we anticipate the coming of Christmas, with expectations. As the season starts to progress, we decorate and have small gatherings to plan activities of the season as it draws near. As Christmas is upon us, the air of excitement turns to rush and frustration and the desire for it to be over with sets in. And finally, after Christmas day, we rush to put away all the reminders and decorations so we can get back to life as normal. We simply put Jesus in a box til next year.
So, again, I ponder the question where is the line for Jesus at today?> It is not at the Mall, the restaurant, or even at the Church. It is at the Cross. And it stretches from the cross thru the grave to the Right of God, where Jesus is seated. And the ironic thing is, it is not even a line>>>>> It is an invitation. For a line implies service to the next person in that line. But Jesus does not work that way. He takes us all as we come, no matter what condition, no matter how broken, no matter what order. He takes just as we are.
Having said that, I believe there is no line for Jesus nor should there be. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he became the doorway to God and with his (Jesus) resurrection, the path to the grace and forgiveness of God.
And the benefit of not having a line for Jesus is simple. No matter when, no matter where, and not matter how, we never have to wait on Jesus, because he is waiting on us to come.
(This message was inspired by the song and video, "The Line to see Jesus", Please view on YouTube)