Lately, it’s easy to get caught up in either anxiety or rage. The speed of cultural change, and the inevitable backlash, leads to a permanent state of dis-orientation. As we get caught up in careers, family life, political campaigns, it’s easy to come out the other side and wonder: What just happened? For many, the Christmas season, or Advent for those who are more liturgically minded, is a welcome reprieve, a whiff of nostalgia. The lights, the sounds, the smells, cover the rot, the stench, the death—like a blanket of white snow on the dead, dry, ground. Not that there’s anything wrong with trying to spruce things up, but January comes around like a polar plunge—leaving many lost and depressed as they face the darkness without the light show.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I love planting a living tree in my house with ornaments to remind me my kids aren’t little anymore. (They also remind me of the dead animals I’ve known and loved.) My love of Christmas has changed as I’ve aged. Now, it’s much more fun to give than receive, and I frequently take advantage of the opportunity to watch movies I know by heart. The smell of Christmas, for me, isn’t just food or trees, it’s also the smell of melting snow. You know, the day after a winter storm when the sun is out, the snow starts to melt, and water drips from the icicles. The smell of Christmas is also found in the bitter cold, when the stars pop, icicles form on my beard, and the snow crunches beneath my feet. The cold air smells like silence, like absence, like beautiful darkness that doesn’t care about political ideology or economic feasibility. You know, the nothing-ness that whispers God’s name, shattering our expectations, reminding us just how small we really are.

Christmas, for me, is about the beauty of ordinary things—a simple liturgy that proclaims a powerful story, a northwest wind reminding me I’m still alive, and falling into a light sleep in the middle of Home Alone, stretched out in a recliner, next to a tree. I wonder—Maybe we take dogs, cats, and trees into our house to remind us how the animals let the incarnate Son of God sleep in their feeding trough. I like to think so even if there isn’t an official doctrine of the manger. If there was such a doctrine it’d be this: The good news of Christmas is for ordinary people living ordinary lives. So here’s wishing everyone an incredibly ordinary Christmas season; or, as the liturgically minded might say—a blessed Advent.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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