How did our celebration of this day become so sanitized, the ideal so disparate from the real? I dare say there is not one picture in the entire stack that shows blood or sweat. Not one home that looks like a place where a displaced teenage unmarried mother in labor would be easily sheltered. Not one article that even acknowledges the existence of anything too disturbing, anything close to suffering.
Besides the magazines, we also have incredibly fast and ubiquitous internet access here. Yesterday I was trying to download a cute little Christmas-tree app, with flashing lights and an automatic countdown to the day. Clicking on one of the very innocent-appearing links however opened a horrifyingly graphic page of disturbing images, quickly closed. That glimpse was shocking, sobering, a gut-punch. I never experienced that before.
So I'm processing the two extremes. I think the magazine images of Christmas, while appealing, feel empty because they lull us into forgetting that evil is out there. That evil is real, and a click away from even the most attractive and safe of homes. Christmas is a desperate tale that only makes sense in a context of a big-picture struggle, where evil is overcome by good. And where that overcoming occurs by way of incarnation, of giving up and pouring out, of death and resurrection.
The beautiful homes are not invalid, they are legitimate early images of the final feast. The home to which we all aspire, the Heavenly mansion with its many rooms (which is a much more communal image than the multi-million dollar single-family fortresses in the photos, by the way). The music and cakes and twinkling lights and generous gifts would not hold such power over imagination if they were not shadows of that which is truly to come. But the real home is reached by way of the valley of the shadow of death, not by way of superior decorating talents.
Another paradox I suppose: longing for the beauty, enjoying the once-a-year magic of nearly reaching it, but at the same time remembering that the real Christmas Home lies behind the veil, that there is still much of the fight to be won before we will relax around Jesus' Christmas tree.