It is definitely Christmas time. Christmas songs are playing on the radio and in stores. Roadside tree stands are in full operation. Lights are up on people's houses. Some people have wreaths or reindeer antlers on their car. Yes, it is definitely Christmas time.
The famous carol tells us that it is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I think my kids would agree with that as they get ready for the toy pay day. But, for some reason, when I talk to people about how they are doing, it doesn't seem like it is the most wonderful time of the year. Maybe it is just my age and the fact that I am now talking mostly to adults or teens. But it seems like I am hearing more stories of depression, or of missing family, or of conflict, or of just general malaise. I can't tell if these things are actually worse than they are at other times of the year, or if they are heightened because it is Christmas time.
Does the idea that it is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year make us feel worse about not being 100%? Does the pressure to bake cookies, buy gifts, run around visiting people and attending events, etc., leave us more run down and tired and focused on what we have yet to accomplish? Is there so much increased stress associated with familial and societal expectations that we are more short tempered? Do we create a romantic ideal of our lives associated with Christmas that we feel bad about failing to meet?
The truth is, I don't know. Maybe it is all of these, maybe it is none of these. But, for some reason as I talk to people it seems like for a lot of people this is, in fact, not the most wonderful time of the year.
I think we need to make it more simple (and yet infinitely more complex). Christmas, and more generally the advent season, is, to me, a celebration of the miracles of the virgin birth and, more significantly, of God's infinite love as shown by the sending of His son to live on earth in human form for the ultimate purpose of dying for our sins. It is a beginning (note the intentional use of "a" instead of "the").
"But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will never end.'" Luke 1:30-33 (NIV)
I don't think "the most wonderful time of the year" was even meant to apply to what is going on in our everyday lives. I don't think it is supposed to mean that everything is supposed to be perfect. I don't think it is supposed to mean that everyone is supposed to be happy all the time. I don't think it is supposed to mean that we are all supposed to get a long better. I think it is supposed to mean that we are celebrating a most wondrous event. I think it is supposed to be a reminder that this is a time for a beginning. A reminder that because of what is going on in our lives, because of our stresses, our losses, our concerns, our squabbles, our failures, God sent Jesus into our world and into our lives to show us the way, to help us through. In that context it is exactly because alone we can't ever meet the picture perfect ideal that we create for ourselves that it is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year.