The days immediately following Christmas may be the greatest period of annual letdown that our Western culture knows. But perhaps the letdown is as valuable as the anticipation.
Like it or not, the weeks before Christmas hold everyone captive to the building, growing, anticipating, planning, preparing, storying, working, sharing, buying, wrapping, and even ‘suspensing’ as Christmas draws near. The ubiquitous music swirls through our hearts, joining the decorations in and on our homes, stores, cars, offices, and malls, all of which trumpet the message that something special is approaching. Everyone everywhere feels the inexorable pull of the season–Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or even an active vow to avoid all three, everyone is engaged, talking, caring.
And for many of us, the river that runs through all of the build-up is the motivation to be conscious of the one Person who truly matters most.
And then it abruptly ends.
Scraps of paper on the floor. Dead trees standing in a bucket of water. Presents savored, but the pleasure always fades. Especially when compared to the rush of first discovery. Feasting gives way to excess. Anticipation succumbs to the dread of putting decorations back in boxes. Resting ceases and work resumes. Excitement dies, leaving only…the numbness of normalcy.
All of which, when we’re honest, leaves us feeling just a little bit depressed. But we aren’t the only ones who have experienced let-down.
A guy named David who lived a long time ago felt a bit depressed. His was a deep suffering of agony that he felt in his bones. His diet was one of tears. His soul was downcast and disturbed, he demanded an answer from God explaining why he’d been forgotten. Even his enemies noticed, and taunted him constantly saying, “Where is your God?”
Then, long ago but not quite as long, another man took David’s words and turned them into what would become a classic song: “As the deer pants for the water.” Amazingly, the song had little to do with the Psalm other than their shared opening lines. David wrote of desperation and despair in the absence of God’s presence. The other guy wrote about God as friend, brother, king, and joy-giver. The Psalm’s panting deer leaves one parched–its unquenched thirst is tragic and palpable. But the deer of the song is drenched by satisfaction from God and and the vigor of the singer’s own devotion.
We romanticize Christ’s birth, we gloss over heartache, we replace fellowship with festivity. But what does it say about us when we muzzle the cry of sadness at every opportunity, even when it means muzzling the voice of scripture?
In muzzling our despair we handcuff our hope. Make no mistake–Psalm 42 is a Psalm of hope. But it is a hope made rich by its embrace of pain, not its denial of pain. Perhaps the greatest gift of Christmas is given after the fact, in the doldrums stemming from the post-Christmas letdown. The letdown reminds us that there is more to come.
Thank God that the week after Christmas sucks. Thank God that a holiday, a few presents, and even an exceptional Christmas Eve worship service is not enough, is never enough, was never meant to be enough.
Thank God that our hope doesn’t settle for Jesus come as a baby–thank God that our hope longs for his return as the King. Thank God that the Bible doesn’t end with gratitude that God was in the manger, but ends instead with an expectant gaze towards our future.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.