There is a Hole in Christmas
Christmas Meditation, 2010
Leander S. Harding
There is always a hole in Christmas. The word in English can be spelled two ways. It can be spelled “hole”—meaning an excavation, a space which has been left behind when something has been removed. It can be spelled “whole”—meaning a fullness, something entire and complete. These two words are almost exact opposites of each other. They sound the same and it is impossible to utter one without thinking of the other. They are a joined pair and both members of the pair are present at Christmas. There is a hole in Christmas. Spell it either way and you will be entirely correct.
Much homiletic hay is made out of the materialism of the Christmas season—all the shopping, all the overdone and extravagant gift-giving, little children worked up to a frenzy of desire then left stunned with a surfeit of things they can’t take in. I say let it run and take off all the brakes on the desires of the human heart for young and for old. You can’t really restrain such things. Each Christmas season there are always censorious voices both religious and secular who protest the excess. The sound of these voices and their impotence are part of the tradition of the season. The excesses of the season are far from all bad. It is not all bad to really want something and want it badly, to really long and ache for it.
The objects of our desires may be fleeting and temporary and our desires may well be, indeed are for the most part disordered. Desires can be trained. They can be reordered. It is one of the chief purposes of Christian liturgy and worship to reorder our desires, to tune our hearts for heaven. This is a hard business, the reordering of desires. It is the central discipline of the Christian life. It is what is meant by daily dying with Him that we might rise with Him. The goal of the Christian life is not detachment—indifference—an austerity of wanting. It is to have desire reformed. It is to die to the things we once wanted but not to wanting. It is to be reborn to wanting what He wants, the honor of His Father and the good, the salvation of His brothers and sisters.
The materialistic, secular, religiously nude shopping Christmas allows people who are often deadened by the demands of robotic production to really feel the depth of their desires—to plumb the depth of the hole in the human heart. People get in touch at Christmastime not only with their longing for things but with the longing that things cannot satisfy—the longing for dignity, enduring meaning and purpose. There is also awakened a desire to genuinely please others—to bring delight to a spouse, a friend or a child—to be an agent of the wellbeing of others.
It is of the nature of gifts to disappoint. Even the best ones never live up to their promise or if they do they break or wear out. If they don’t break or wear out our fascination with them wears out. The gift-giving inevitably disappoints as well. Rarely does the gift giver provoke the imagined result in full. It is of the nature of the Christmas season as it is celebrated even in the crassest cultural forms to bring pleasure and delight and at the same time knowledge of the inadequacies of all pleasures and delights, even the delight of doing for others. The good old materialist, secular celebration of Christmas awakens the depths of the human heart and knowledge of the hole in the heart that aches for wholeness and even holiness. A heart thus awakened is a heart prepared for that other celebration of Christmas, the one which centers on the birth of the Saviour.
The by turn generous, extravagant, sentimental, irresponsible and cranky celebrants of the excesses of Christmas need to be met with great tenderness. As the old pop song goes, they are looking for love in all the wrong places. But looking they are, keenly searching. What they need and we all need is not scorn or condemnation but a taste of the love wherewith God has loved us and a word about that which has been left behind and which has left a hole and about the wholeness and holiness to which the hole gives both testimony and promise, this wholeness and holiness which is not our own but God’s gift to us in the Word made flesh. A word spoken about these things will be a word in season. Thank God for the season.