As always, my buddy Benji is close to genius:
Picking out Christmas presents challenges me. And not a cool, man-I-can’t-believe-I-just-pulled-that-off kind of challenge like, say, running a half-marathon or eating a half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting (I’m more likely to accomplish the latter). No, Christmas shopping challenges me in the same way that math does: I know it’s important, but I’m just terrible at it.
This isn’t because I hate Christmas, in fact, quite the opposite. I love Christmas. Two factors limit my enthusiasm for buying Christmas presents: 1. I have no idea what to give; 2. I have no idea where to look. Significant hurdles, in my view.
Try as I might, I can’t typically decide what to get someone for Christmas. I think the thoughtful-gift-giving lobe of my brain didn’t develop quite right. People I know quite well might as well be strangers to me when it comes to knowing what they would like. So, what do I do when I don’t know what to give? I wander around a bit.
Since I don’t know what to give, I don’t know where to go to look for the thing that I can’t imagine myself buying for the person I thought I knew until this holiday-induced crisis of relational affinity. Simply put, when you don’t know what to get, you can not find it anywhere.
So, I will drive to a store and walk around for a while. This makes me susceptible to impulse buying as well as awkward conversations with the store security folk who, apparently, don’t enjoy people just casing the joint for a couple of hours without, you know, buying anything. Footage of my Christmas shopping could serve as a U2 music video. (Although, I envy anyone who actually knows what they’re looking for.)
And my gift-giving deficiencies remind me of Advent’s promise of joy. That’s what we all really want, right? Who doesn’t want joy? We all do. But, like me searching for something meaningful in the “Housewares” section at Ross Dress for Less, many people don’t know where to look to find the thing they know deep down that they really, truly want. So, they settle for cheap substitutes that tease them for a moment before revealing their inability to hold the weight of such lofty expectations.
Think about that one Christmas present that promised you lasting joy. Mine was RBI Baseball for the NES. Despite the trauma surrounding its unwrapping, I got lots of joy out of that game. But, you know what? That game—great as it was—provided temporary joy, and, eventually, I got a new game in which Vince Coleman wasn’t a white guy and the Twins and Cardinals weren’t on top of the world. And, today, I have no idea what happened to that plastic cartridge. Lots of joy, but not lasting joy.
At Advent, we proclaim that what we long for and desire more than anything else arrived by God’s intervention at Bethlehem. And we admit that even the sweetest tastes of joy in this life aren’t worthy to be compared to what lies ahead. And, we declare, rightly, “Joy to the World!” But, do we wear joy for others to see? Or do we simply keep it to ourselves, like spiritual “Hoarders?” Does joy animate us, beckoning a world that doesn’t know that it doesn’t know where to find what it wants? Because, everywhere we look, if we’d only take the time, we see people who climb highest mountains and run through the fields in dedication to flimsy, plastic knick knacks that promise what they can’t possibly deliver. And, they’ll keep looking elsewhere until someone points them in the only direction that will lead where they’re deeply longing to go.
Since Christ is our older brother, we have a better word to speak to a world that wanders around aimlessly, giving its heart away over and over again. Let’s not be afraid to speak it. This Christmas, let’s not be afraid to actually act joyful and triumphant because the Lord has, indeed, come. Maybe, in so doing, we can actually help the wanderers find what they’re looking for.