“Slow down,” I’ll say. “Take turns.” Ben will chime in, “There are no more. Once you’re done, it’s over.” We issue these admonitions every Christmas morning while our kids open presents. The anticipation of the holiday season looms large and builds until the four of them can hardly sleep on Christmas Eve. As their parents, we try to extend the big Christmas morning finale as long as possible, but it goes by fast. After a month of expectation, it’s over in less than half an hour. And sometimes, there’s a letdown that comes from completion of the gift opening. Not just for the kids either. As adults, we realize that holidays, birthdays, and other big life events can end in an anticlimactic nature, and that’s when our expectations are realistic. Throw in some unrealistic hopes and dreams, and the disappointment can be downright depressing.
The disenchantment of “the day after” in almost any situation can be difficult. I wonder what happened the day after Jesus was born. Having a baby is one of the greatest events that ever happens to anyone. The love is overwhelming. But the reality is not wholly serene. I imagine the exhaustion of his mother Mary after giving birth and hosting midnight visitors who came to see her newborn. The angels had invited the shepherds to intrude. Mary might not have extended the same welcome if the schedule had been up to her. Mary didn’t have a midwife or her mother to help her manage her physical discomfort, the emotional highs and lows, and the care of a new baby. We may like to think of Jesus as the “perfect” baby, but I suspect he still fussed, cried, got hungry, stayed up all night, and spit up like any other baby. Joseph probably struggled with how to help with an infant and worried about what he and his little family would do next.
After being terrified by the angels, the shepherds surely were excited that they’d actually found the baby as described and were not, in fact, collectively crazy. We’re told they returned to their fields glorifying and praising God. The wise men brought treasure from afar and then left town to avoid King Herod. Mary and Joseph were amazed at what the people at the stable and later at the temple said about Jesus, about how they located Mary and Joseph and who Jesus would turn out to be. Even knowing their son was special and the unusual circumstances of his birth, tales of angels and stars and prophecies were still hard to completely comprehend.
Mary and Joseph must have experienced the heights of love, the depths of bewilderment, and the lows of the day-to-day realities of newborn life. But their lives were changed forever. They had a baby and bore the responsibility to raise God’s son. The shepherds and the wise men experienced change because they’d encountered the wonder of God born into the world. When everyone that we see in the traditional Nativity scene left the stable, they were different than when they arrived.
Can we say the same? We rush to and through Christmas only to feel down when the presents are opened. Or the time with the family doesn’t go as planned, or we don’t feel appreciated or loved. But instead maybe we can stop and take the opportunity to truly experience God’s presence during this season. To seek God’s comfort for our weary souls. When we visit the miracle of the manger, we can ask Jesus to change us. What does God want us to learn from him during this season? Let us reclaim the days after Christmas so that we enter the new year refreshed in our faith, renewed in our spirits, and most importantly, reminded of God’s great love for us.