Good News for the Cynic This Christmas

SUSAN TYNER|CONTRIBUTOR

My husband knew something was wrong when I said it. He looked up from his phone, “What did you just say?”

I repeated, “Christmas. What’s the point anyway?”

A new city. A new house. The year had been full of sudden change. Now the holidays were approaching with the pressure of creating magic for our children coming to spend the holidays in a new home.

The problem was that there was no magic to give. I was cynical. Tired. And quite frankly, a little depressed. No little kids to buy for. No fun surprise like a puppy or a hard-to-find toy. I couldn’t conjure up the magic I was known for giving, the magic I had grown up with.

As a child, I squealed when Santa threw candy through our sliding glass door as Rudolph sailed overhead (my dad may have been nearby throwing candy to bounce off the glass as he distracted us).

When I grew older and could handle a hatchet, I marched into our wooded yard to cut my own “Charlie Brown tree” to bedazzle my bedroom.

Then as a college student, I could not wait to pull into our driveway at Christmas break knowing Mama had turned on every twinkling light, hit play on the holiday music, and prepared a fire and cup of spice tea for me as I collapsed from dorm room living to home-sweet-home.

Fast forward through two and a half decades of putting on a Christmas show for five kids and the chaotic cheer that ensued, myriad Christmas Eve dinners with family and friends, several late entrances into candlelight church services, and I was in a place without memories, with kids too grown to care about Elf on a Shelf, and family miles away.

I found myself depressed listening to Bing Crosby’s tunes, cynical in stores advertising happiness wrapped in glitter, and hopeless in the realization that Christmas magic was a fickle gift I couldn’t depend on giving.

Why would we spend money, time, and energy on something that melted like fake snow? What was the point of all this frantic frolic if it would only end in disappointment? In a way, I was having an Ecclesiastes moment of “Meaningless! Meaningless!” (Eccl. 1:1) when it came to my favorite time of the year. And I wasn’t alone. Others were having Christmases post-divorces & deaths. What does Christmas cheer look like after the loss of a parent or child? What about when it is just different due to the normal wear and tear of time changing family traditions?

If “enjoying Christmas” was contingent on a fun gift or a successful family gathering, then I could not count on being merry, ever again. Who can guarantee a season without sorrow? Who can control finances, family members, or festivities to make reality match expectations?

But then—and I cannot really remember why or how but a small voice reminded me — I did have something I could count on, something outside of my depressed self, my changing traditions, my precarious world. I had something that I could depend on being true every December—the truth that God triumphs over it all. Over the pains, over the loneliness, over the cynicism, God wins! That message was even buried in the background music on my car radio…

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men[1]

God’s “goodwill” we celebrate at Christmas douses the darkness of our hurts, disappointments, and losses. It gives us something that does not alter. This truth may feel like a mere glimmer now but it’s a sure bet of what is to come. It offers a joy that out-lusters every bit of holiday shine I can create, and it transcends all the cynicism I see on the news, in my city, and in my heart.

I turned a corner. I could celebrate.

My future Christmases may not include a full tree and feast of my childhood memories, but I can experience a simple hope that gives Christmas comfort in hospital rooms, in lonely apartments, in evolving family dynamics. I can face the holiday season because the future Decembers hold the expectancy that doesn’t come tied in a red velvet bow but from a stable birth. My Savior’s constant presence with me ensures that the fullness of joy (Ps.16:11) I crave at Christmas will always be available, no matter the circumstances of my season or time of year.

This Christmas, I see this truth reflected in all the ways I encounter the usual holiday trappings. Shopping for stocking stuffers reminds me that God gets excited over giving His children good gifts (Matt. 7:11). Rather than hear Christmas songs and let nostalgia mock me, God’s promises push back my cynicism (Ps 4:7). The multi-colored lights of my tree remind me of the jeweled tones of Zion (Rev 21:19-20). Even the Nutcracker ballet whispers the story of a disguised Prince rescuing a little girl to reign in His magical kingdom (Ez. 16:12).

The smell of fresh Christmas trees still transports me to memories of my childhood home, but it also takes me to a memory I have not lived yet—of the Home I’ve not seen—the one Jesus delights to prepare for me (Jn. 14:3). One day I will walk through those doors, ready to leave behind this earthly living for the comfort of His Home-Sweet-Home.

 

[1] “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” lyrics

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), 1867)

 

About the Author:

Susan Tyner

Susan Tyner recently moved to Fort Worth from Oxford, MS, where she worked as the Coordinator of Women’s Ministry at Christ Presbyterian Church and enjoyed her role as Mid-South Regional Advisor.  She continues to serve as an Advisor to the RUF Permanent Committee.  Although this is a year of transition for Susan, she already enjoys Texas and looks forward to what God has planned for her family there.  Her husband Lee and she have five children and an almost empty nest.  Between unpacking boxes, you can find Susan cooking, dancing in a gym class, or doing (less) laundry.

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