Imagine a well-worn path. We’ve walked this path hundreds, if not thousands of times. The trail leads you to the edge of a precipice. One step beyond the way we know so well and all bets are off. We have no idea where we’ll end up. Will we fall? Is the darkness beyond the final step perpetual? Is there a new path with more significant opportunities and challenges? We do not know. Instead of making the last move we take all that we have gathered on our journey and return the way we came.
It is easier to go home. The fear of stepping forward is too frightening. The comfort of returning home is too enticing. Perhaps next year, when the seasons change, you can take to the well-worn path once again. Maybe then you can follow the faded footprints to the edge and finally decide to step forward, past the path holding you so tightly.
We walk the Christmas path each year. We shop, we sing, go to church, gather as families, and celebrate. These are secular rituals which define our lives. Christmas is so ingrained in our culture and psyche; we could “do Christmas” with our eyes shut. That’s why I call it a well-worn path. We enjoy the stress to a certain point. We know which lights will go on specific houses. Someone always has everything. These events define our journeys. Along we go until we reach the end. It’s somewhere near Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It happens when the ride is over, the familiar road signs are in the rearview mirror, and Christmas becomes more of an intangible idea with real-world expectations. Suddenly, The Virgin Mary’s asking questions about how we might live different lives. Suddenly, she’s holding the world to account for sins that we find ourselves having committed on the way to Christmas.
At this point, it’s easier to go home. Christmas has left us exhausted and broke. It’s been going on since Halloween, and we’re worn out. We need to go back to work. We take your gifts, warm feelings, and step back from the edge of being asked to commit to something bigger than our enjoyment of an end of the year holiday.
There is another option. We could go forward and step beyond the idea of Christmas as we know it and into the Christmas of uncertainty, expectation, and doubt. That’s Jesus’ Christmas. We call that discipleship. As disciples, we remember: the manger becomes cross, the joyous crowds turn angry, and the questions get harder. That’s OK.
Here’s the thing: God wouldn’t have brought us this far if we weren’t ready. Christmas is about hitting a pause button and starting the cycle over in 10 months. We keep going forward. Because that’s we do.
Richard Lowell Bryant