'It's easy to lose sight of the real Christmas story, which is less about the things we need to do to make Christmas happen than the surprise that can still come if we let Christmas happen to us.'
"I haven't taken leave of my senses, Bob; I've come to them." So Ebenezer Scrooge said to Bob Cratchit in the final moments of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.
I have in mind the classic 1951 movie version of the novelette, with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. Many of us will no doubt remember and revisit this version as the Christmas season approaches.
If we grasp its message, we may even experience a conversion.
Christmas is a time for remembering. We can become very melancholy as we look back to happier, younger, more innocent moments in our lives with family and friends -- many, no longer with us. Our minds reshuffle the years, even the decades, to form an immortal, idealized past that probably never quite happened in the way we might mentally reconstruct.
We all have moments at this time when we dream of Christmases "like the ones I used to know." But, whatever such memories might invite, I always come back to that moment in "A Christmas Carol" when Scrooge realizes that what really matters in life is the blessing of loving and being loved.
Scrooge is not a particularly rich or talented man. No doubt, his natural frugality and work ethic only gradually degenerated into stinginess and workaholism through something absent in his life.
I don't recall that we learn much about his past. Was he married? Did he have children? Was there some tragedy in his life that led him to become so bitter and cynical as we first meet him in the story?
Not everyone looks forward to this season. Pressures pile up as resources seem to tighten. Time races by to get the necessaries done: decorating and visiting, writing, wrapping and wrestling through crowded malls. It's easy to lose sight of the real Christmas story, which is less about the things we need to do to make Christmas happen than the surprise that can still come if we let Christmas happen to us.
Advent is an attitude that opens up the mystery and wonder of Christmas. Literally, it means "coming to." We speak of a person "coming to" after they have dozed off or blacked out, or of "coming to our senses" when we have been lost in a flight of fancy or pattern that has led us off a safe and steady path of health and well-being.
This is what Scrooge discovered. He had been missing the most important things in life, obsessed as he was with his business routine, his anxieties about money and work. Had he been running a florist shop, he would not have taken the time to smell the flowers and enjoy their beauty.
Advent "came to" Scrooge in another sense, however. He was visited by a series of ghostly figures -- messengers from the past, present and future -- who challenged him to see his life in a larger context than he was heretofore willing to consider.
In a similar, if less dramatic way, the Scriptures selected long ago for the Masses during these days of Advent emphasize themes of watching and waiting, awareness of signs, the unpredictability of our lifespan and the surprises that can catch us off-guard.
We all know this deep down and, to be honest, it may be this anxiety about the unknown that drives us to dig into our routines and even obsessions -- almost for fear of the silence that will reveal to us our emptiness and lack of control.
"Let go and let God" is a favorite theme of 12-Step programs that help people overcome their addictions. The false gods of substances and toxic behavioral patterns cannot feed that big hole in the middle of our hearts which only the living God of life and love can satisfy.
To come to the awareness that there is nothing we can really do to add a second to our time on this Earth, when nature imposes itself upon us, or to bring fulfillment of our deepest desires to be loved unconditionally -- the real deal, the unconditional, saving of love of the Lord who comes to us to be the peace for which our hearts long: This is the meaning of the Christmas we really wish we had.
It can be ours. What does it cost? Nothing, and everything. It comes to us only once we realize it cannot be made or earned. God's desire to break into our lives is nothing less than His passion to let every person know that the eternal God of all creation has a weak spot for every human heart.
What we most long for, God wants us to have: an intimate awareness and appreciation that each of us is wanted, loved and cared for by a God who loves us enough to die for us.
Many faiths hope in a God that can be kind and generous and merciful -- if. This "if" depends not on any nature or necessity, but on a hope that this sovereign God might favor a good and just person. Ours is a faith, however, that reveals a God whose very essence or nature is love itself.
All that this love requires of us is that we accept it. Accept being accepted. Accept being loved. Let this love come to you. Come to your senses and stop fighting it. Don't resist. Trust that Jesus is the Savior He says He is and shows Himself to be, time and again.
If the saints have anything over us, it is not that they were genetically, occupationally, intellectually or even morally superior to any of us when God came into their lives. It is simply that they said "yes" and never looked back.
That same God comes to you now. He knocks at the door of your heart. Will you let Him in?