The Christmas lights are up in the malls (much more so in Singapore than here in the USA, I am sure), the carols are incessantly being played through the Public Address system, the radio stations are churning out familiar Christmas tunes, the Salvation Army personnel stationed at the entrances of shopping malls are already ringing that little bell asking for your Christmas contribution into that tin, and the streets are decked out in the familiar red and green. It doesn’t take much to detect that Christmas is ‘in the air’.
But are we really in the Christmas season? One of my annual lamentations at this time of the year is how we fail miserably at being a people who really know how to celebrate something meaningfully and deeply. By the time 25th of December comes round, most of us would already have been to quite a few Christmas parties, eaten our fill of Christmas festive foods, politely turned down offers of Christmas Fruitcake for the umpteenth time, sung many Christmas carols, and perhaps even opened up our Christmas presents, so much so that when Christmas really comes, we tell ourselves we have indeed overeaten, and need to fast in order to lose some of those dreaded added kilos or pounds. The irony that most of us do not see is that we have actually feasted when we should have fasted, causing us to fast when we should in actual fact be feasting.
The problem that I see perhaps stems from the fact that we have developed a very poor sense of healthy anticipation and adequate spiritual preparation. We may call ourselves disciples, but there seems to be very little ‘disciplining’ in our lives. And this is not just for Christmas, but for so many other things or events in life. We have this tendency to short-circuit the waiting, training, anticipating and ‘mystery’ period of life, and because of this, often we end up being the cause of our own undoing when we find ourselves underwhelmed at the moments that we should be overwhelmed, blasé when we should be in awe, and struck dumb when we should be dumbstruck. The Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 gives us a scriptural framework from which we should order our lives. Those of us who remember songs from the 60s should be able to recall the song Turn! Turn! Turn! by the group The Byrds. They based their song on these verses from Scripture, which remind us that there is a season for everything in life. A time for giving birth, a time for dying, for tears, for laughter, etc. When we respect the time that we have for the proper things in life, we will know how to live well. But it is when we have dispensed all too happily (and too hastily) with any form of proper and adequate preparation, we are the ones who end up suffering and wondering why we are out of sorts at certain junctures of our lives.
One thing comes to mind immediately is how couples very often are too eager to live as if they are already married when they are in fact still single and not Mr and Mrs. Play or make-believe consummation has much more far-reaching negative effects than meets the eye. I sometimes refer to this as the act of opening of Christmas presents in June. When couples make no effort at all in refraining from physical intimacy during their courtship days, it cheapens the delight and surprise and specialness that they should be celebrating when consummation should actually be taking place (after the wedding). When Christmas presents are opened in June, and in July, August, and September, right up till Christmas, what happens on Christmas day is at best, going to be a sham or mock celebration, a put-on specialness, and feigned delight, cheapening not only the other and the self, but much more than that, making a mockery of the delight that God wants the union of man and woman to be.
When so many things are done in anticipation and brought to fulfillment in advance, our progeny will only pick up and learn from example. One erudite spiritual writer once said “presence depends on absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work”. There is a certain pentameter or rhythmic pattern that once broken and disrespected, causes a jarring not just to our ears, but to the minds of our spirits and indeed, our whole lives as well.
Training in this ability to wait comes from our earliest days. Parents need to impart the importance of learning how to wait well, to fast adequately, to dare to enter into uncomfortable silence and to dare to teach our children delayed gratification by example. Only when this is imbibed well can we truly celebrate well when it comes for time to respond with a joy that wells up from within.
So, perhaps for the coming two weeks before Christmas should actually be celebrated, fight the temptation – have that Christmas party during Christmastide instead, open the presents only after 25th December, and keep doing that right up till we observe the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord next year, when Christmastide really should end. And show the world that we really know how to celebrate Christmas, simply because we have also learnt to prepare well.
We have to learn how not to empty the well before its time. Because if that well is being emptied, drunk from and delighted in way ahead of time, we will be hard pressed to present anything to the Lord for him to change so that it can be the best tasting wine.