The other day, as Ruth and I were on our way downtown, one of the various covers of "My Grown-Up Christmas List" was playing. When I was younger, I always thought the song was rather sappy, but as the years go on, I find it is more likely to bring legitimate tears to my eyes. This year, it brings to mind Aleppo. It reminds me of the little boy we know whose cancer is progressing, despite many medical interventions, and the 6 kids (among others) who will spend this Christmas without their mother. It calls up broken marriages, children who feel rejected by their peers, people stuck outside in the midst of our recent barrage of snow. There is perhaps no time of year where we feel more keenly the strange juxtaposition of joy and brokenness in a single season. Christmas is about rejoicing, yes. We are celebrating the end of the long wait for the promised Messiah to enter our world and bring justice and peace to reign. But at the same time, we are still very much in a period of waiting for the risen Messiah to come a second time and finally do away with all the tyranny that yet remains in this world.
So Ruth and I are on our way to a wedding (rejoicing!) and I'm contemplating grown-up Christmas lists (brokenness), and she asks me what the song is about. I explain to her that little kids ask to get toys and candy for Christmas, but as we get older, it often becomes more important to us to experience true happiness and peace that we don't get by having stuff. Ruth's response was one of those 6-year-old answers that sometimes surprises us parents with its thoughtfulness: "But Santa can't give you those things. Only God can!"
She's completely right, of course, and yet how often do we all, 6-year-olds and 36-year-olds and 96-year-olds included, try to fill our brokenness with material things, with breakable human relationships, with amazing experiences, with feel-good Christmas tunes and dreams of Santa down the chimney? But putting shiny tinsel and lots of coloured balls on a dying tree won't make it any less brown come New Year's.
The older we get, the more we get to Christmas with thoughts of the loved one who won't be joining us anymore, the reminder of people suffering in our churches, our city, and around the world (and maybe in our own home). And it's not wrong for there to be sadness mixed in with the Christmas celebrations. Jesus has come into the midst of this world's brokenness to save us, and that is cause for rejoicing. But His work on earth is not yet finished and if anything, the mixed-up sentiments of this season should cause us all the more to long for His return when He will make all things new and finally cross off all those items on our grown-up Christmas lists.
There's a reason that song has been recorded by dozens of artists. In the season of "Joy To The World" and "Jingle Bells" all the way, requests to Santa for no more lives torn apart and peace on earth and friends for everyone resonate deeply with all of us who've seen and experienced the losses of life on earth. But as you sing along with Amy Grant or Kelly Clarkson or Michael Bublé or whichever version might be playing on your station this time, don't make it a list for Santa. Make it a prayer to the only one with the power to actually bring it to pass, to the one, indeed, who has promised to bring it to pass. And that's not the innocence of youth and blind belief touted in the song. It's faith in what is really and truly true. Amen. Come, Lord, Jesus!
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Those who live in the land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy;
They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
As they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder,
The rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
And every garment rolled in blood
Will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given;
And the government shall be upon his shoulder,
And his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
There will be no end,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it
With justice and with righteousness
From this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.