Christmas Ambivalence

I hate feeling ambivalent at Christmas.  It makes me see myself in an almost Grinch-like way.  I see and can almost taste the joy in the Season.  From the bright lights to the decorative trees to festive parties to lots of good food, there is so much external stimuli that shouts joy.  From the “sales” in stores to the carefully chosen presents to the perpetually playing Christmas music, our world shouts joy and gladness.

And then there are the family hopes and dreams.  So many commercials with scenes of laughing, smiling families together.  So many stories from friends of their families – catching up, celebrating, enjoying.  Togetherness is in the air!  Intimate connection seems everywhere.

But the ambivalence comes in so many ways.  I personally am not a very good gift giver.  I’m not creative.  I don’t remember the things that you really like and want, so I find myself starting at scratch.  Others in my world and family are off the charts when it comes to remembering and to choosing just the right gift.  So, I feel pressure there.  I want to give, but I don’t think my gifts can be good enough to communicate what I want them to.

Like many of us, I enjoy thinking about all the pretty acquisitions that Christmas brings.  But with it I find myself feeling either guilty or irritated at the commercialism of Christmas.  I feel guilty because I get caught up in it.  I want more.  I put too much hope in “things.”  I feel irritated when I am either in a more spiritually grounded place or when I am more self-righteous.  Those two often happen almost simultaneously. 😊

Then there is the spiritual underlining—the real “reason for the season”—the birth of a Savior, our Savior, my Savior, Jesus who is Christ the Lord.  So much energy around this baby!  I love the idea of the Incarnation.  I love the picture of the angels and the shepherds.  I am humbled and encouraged at the manger scene.  Christ is born today!  Christ is born today!

I always wonder why we seem to make a bigger deal about Christmas than about Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  I think because we get gifts on Christmas but not Easter.  That holiday tends to be more singularly God-centered.  And while I really do love the idea that the Son of God came to earth in the form of an innocent and vulnerable and dependent little babe, it’s just a birthday (but I guess it really isn’t… I do sound like a Grinch, don’t I? I feel like one as I write).

The biggest source of ambivalence comes from the tension between gratitude for what is true relationally and longing for more.  All of us face that combination of thanksgiving combined with loss.  Family and friends are a gift, yet we all can face real disappointments there.  Some of those relationships aren’t all that we would hope for and Christmas seems to highlight the ones that are either major disappointments or sources of real sorrow.  We remember and miss those we have lost.  We pretend to be closer with those who feel too far away.  The discrepancy between what we have and what we long for seems greater.

And that is true for me in my relationship with God as well.  I am stopped by the season in a way that I count the cost and treasure the love of the Father who sent His only begotten son… for me.  Unto us that day was born our Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  He has come for us, for me.  He has come to set my life and our world right.

And yet I admit again that it still isn’t right.  There are still times when God feels far away.  There are those disappointing moments in the season when I am reminded that He hasn’t made it all right yet.  Not by a long shot.

So, I feel ambivalent.  Torn between the now and the not yet.  They say that Advent is a season of waiting for the Savior.  For me, Christmas reminds me in a deep way that I am still waiting, blessed by friends and family and in so many other ways, but waiting, longing for His return.  Christmas tells me that He came and reminds me that He is coming again!  That day will feel like a real “Christmas Day,” when the hope and dreams of all the years are finally met in Him right then and there.




Palmer Trice


Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.

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