It is Christmas Eve.I am in my favorite room in the house. We generally call it our "den." It has walls lined with books, a desk for the computer, some filing cabinets, our television with PS3, a comfy couch, a recliner and a wood-burning stove which currently houses a cheery crackling fire. Right now, the the television and PS3 are occupied playing a series of about 100 Christmas carols that I have on MP3. The dogs are playing somewhat too rowdy game for the house, but outside a mix of rain and snow makes me want to keep them in despite the rambunctious antics.
Earlier this evening, my wife and I attended our church's Christmas Eve service. We sang some lovely carols and took the Lord's Supper along with our church family. When I got home, I made some snickerdoodle cookies with alternating green and red sugar. I may take them with me to a gathering planned for tomorrow. I am also bringing a cheesecake that I made in the shape of a Christmas tree and a chocolate pie. Others will bring assorted good things to eat and we will have a wonderful time.
If my Christmas Eve sounds positively idyllic, that's because it probably is. The fire is warm. The carols are great. There are so many presents beneath the tree that it can barely contain them. If Dickens were to have written in modern times, I imagine he would have described a setting not unlike the room I am in. If this picturesque image of holiday perfection makes my readers wonder why I would describe this as my worst Christmas Eve of my life, well, that's kind of the point.
This year's disappointments.Nearly every year of my life I have traveled for Christmas. There was a brief period during my teens when my parents lived close enough to their parents that major travel was unnecessary, but otherwise, Christmas has meant piling into a car and travelling a long distance. This is normal, I believe. At least it is common enough for Perry Como to have made a song famous regarding it:
I expected this year to be no different. My wife has a job which is none to wonderful for a number of reasons, but one advantage about which we were excited was the fact that she was to have two weeks off over Christmas. Since October, however, the company for which she works has undergone some changes. Among these changes was that there would be less holiday time available. At first, we thought we might have at least one week of Christmas break off. Then we heard that we did not. Our plans to travel to see family for Christmas were squashed.
As if that wasn't enough, promising two weeks and giving none, she had to spend tonight at work. Christmas Eve she must spend the entire night at work. So, while I am enjoying the carols, the dogs' antics and the cheery fire, I am doing so alone (except for the dogs).
I've never spent a Christmas Eve alone before. Normally, I like to be alone. Generally, I look forward to the evenings when my wife must work her overnight. I am a solitary person by nature and interaction, even with people I really love, wear on me. I am not particularly social. Don't get me wrong. I love certain social gatherings, but I enjoy the energy I get from being alone. Generally, I find the opportunity to be alone exciting.
But not on Christmas Eve. Being alone on Christmas Eve stinks. It is probably worse for my wife who not only is not able to be with people she loves, but actually has to work all night.
But complaining is wrong . . .I can get so caught up in the negative. I am alone on Christmas Eve, but my Christmas is much better than Christmas is for the Christians who celebrate in Sudan, Iran or China. It is, in fact, beautiful, comfortable and amazing. My wife will come home in the morning. We will open our presents. We will play with our dogs. We will have a good time. I often get so caught up in what I do not have that I forget all I have.
Our pastor said something interesting Sunday. It was not a major point of his sermon. In fact, I am pretty sure it was an unintentional short digression. He pointed out that for Christians, Christmas should not be about "giving," it should be about "receiving." Christmas is not about family. It's not about friends. It's not about food. It's not about giving gifts, it's about receiving them. The incarnation, the ultimate gift from God, is for us to receive. It opened the door for us to receive the gifts of salvation, the gifts of the Spirit, the gift of a personal relationship with The Most High God. For me, it is harder to be a grateful receiver than a generous giver. As a receiver, I lack gratitude and always seem to be demanding more.
That's what I've been doing lately. I've been complaining to God, friends, family, everyone about the changes in plan I've had to endure. I haven't focused on all I am receiving. I haven't seen God's grace in the wonderful Christmas I can and will have. Because of that, I have almost ruined it for myself.