This has been a strange Christmas season.
It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I just cannot seem to get into it. I tried watching all of the classic Christmas movies, hoping that the familiarity would excite me. I tried listening to all Christmas music stations and old Christmas songs from my childhood hoping that the nostalgia would warm my heart. I even tried visiting New York City with my mother and sister. After all, New York City around the holidays is filled with Christmas plays, holiday aesthetics and smells of roasted peanuts and hot chocolate. Yet when we went, it was full of people, but lacked that certain holiday wonder that it used to have. Even the Rockefeller Christmas Tree looked unmoved and unbothered. Church on Sunday’s, though filled with old Christmas hymns and sermons proclaiming the message of Christ, have even failed to revive me from my cynical slumber. I thought for sure that at least one of those avenues would get me into the Christmas spirit that I long for every year when this season comes around. No matter how hard I fight, I’m just not into it.
I walked into one of our country’s most famous cathedrals recently. I was excited to see the aesthetic and beauty of the building inside and out. When I walked in people were everywhere. It was loud and you could barely hear the service that was happening on the inside. There was an area for tourists and an area for worshippers. Yes, even with all of the people coming in to visit, there was still a worship service happening simultaneously. Though the area for tourists was roped off, it seemed impossible for the service to go uninterrupted. Security guards had to check our bags in the tourist area. When I walked in, I fought through the crowd to get a picture of the cathedral on the inside. On every side, you could light a candle for a few bucks and take a picture for a few bucks more. Dozens of people were spilling out of the front of the cathedral where the organs and other instruments were sitting. There were donation slot machines and people taking selfies with statues. I stopped to take a picture myself, but felt awkward taking it. Why am I taking a selfie in the midst of these people’s worship service?
It reminded me of the scene in Matthew 21: 12-13 when Jesus overturned the tables in the temple. I wondered how the people could worship in the midst of the utter chaos that was happening all around them. It had to be distracting. I started to feel bad being a tourist in that space. I thought to myself, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” That’s when I thought about why I have failed to get into the Christmas spirit this year. To me, it’s like the illustration of what I experienced as a tourist in that cathedral. The center of the sanctuary represented the sacred space of the authentic gospel message. It was a place of hope and expectation. It was a space of quiet reserve and reflection. Where the perfection of the divine meets the imperfection of humanity. That is where the Christmas spirit and the spirit of Christ resides. Yet, where many of us find ourselves this season is on the outside where the noise and the crowds are. We are where the spirit of consumerism and indulgence is. We are tourists and not neighbors. We are too busy to be still and know that God is God. We find ourselves listening in on and observing on the outside, but not active participants in the service of God to all humankind on the inside.
I realized then that many of us are not in the Christmas spirit this year because we are merely spectators of the gospel. For some reason, the sacred has been roped off and we are no longer participants of the transformative event of celebrating the birth of Christ. If I have learned nothing else this season, it’s that it will take more than Christmas songs, trees or movies to enter into the divine space of the true meaning of Christ’s birth.