IT WASN’T EVEN lunchtime on Christmas Day, but the young boy sat glumly in the corner as those around him laughed and celebrated. When she asked someone why the lad looked so sad, they told my grandmother, who had witnessed the scene, “Broke his watch and torn his trousers.”
Those had been his two gifts that morning.
Whenever I hear that family Christmas story, something in my heart breaks just a little, too. I want to be able to go back and patch his pants and tinker with his timepiece, to somehow make everything okay again for just a little while.
But the reality is that the hope and expectation that fills our Advent air dissipates in time. We can’t bottle it, much as we might try.
When my kids were young, I did my best to shield them from the inevitable Christmas letdown. Rather than a gift-opening free-for-all, we stewarded a take-it-in-turns approach. Everyone would watch while one opened a gift, sharing their delight, before the next person had a turn.
There would be frequent pauses for someone to inspect and enjoy what they had received—even some assembly, when required—rather than putting it to one side and reaching for the next package. There would be breaks for snacks. Sometimes we’d still be unwrapping by late afternoon.
When one of them asked to speed things up, I’d smile and talk about the joy of delayed gratification, how waiting can make the moment sweeter.
But there would still come that time when the last gift was opened and, even amidst all the thankfulness, there was a splash of disappointment that it was over.
That was quickly followed for me by guilt, because I used to think that feeling sad it was all over showed just how how shallow and selfish I was. That certainly may be true in part, but I now believe there’s another aspect.
In some ways, the wistfulness of post-Christmas seems to me to sum up the reality of the Christian life; seasons of bright hope and anticipation interspersed with moments of despondency. When what had been looked forward to for so long somehow doesn’t survive the wear and tear of everyday life.
It reminds that we live in that tension of the here-and-now and the yet-to-come, the kingdom into which we have been born again and the one yet to be known in its fullness.
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