One of my guilty Christmas pleasures is watching the movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” In it, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) does all he can to create the joy of an old-fashioned “Griswold Family Christmas.” He prepares in advance. He makes his plans, calculations, and formulas. He pursues the perfect gift for the family (one he clearly can’t afford). He longs to give everyone a holiday as perfect as those he remembers from childhood.
But it’s a comedy, so of course his plans never work. His perfect yard display won’t light up. His perfect Christmas tree won’t fit in the house, and becomes a firework due to a cat and a short in the lights. His perfect family time is disrupted by difficult in-laws as well as his uninvited Cousin Eddie and his, um, dog Snots. His perfect gift falls through after his Christmas bonus morphs into an annual membership in the Jelly-of-the-Month club. And then the whole holiday literally goes up flames when a gas fireball explodes from his sewer. The season is ruined.
I am Clark Griswold.
Throughout December I try so hard to create the joy of the perfect Christmas. I put up a real tree before the first TV Christmas special, because a real tree is at least three times more Christmas-y than a fake one. I travel to Eastern Washington not only because my family is there, but also because their usual snowy forecast is far more Christmas-y than Portland’s rainy one. I have carols playing all the time. I even dress all Christmas-y, daily wearing one of my silly Christmas hats, ties, or T-shirts.
No doubt about it: I deeply desire that perfect Christmas.
But, like Clark Griswold, I find that things never turn out as I’d hoped. Plans still fail, relationships still go haywire, and Christmas is not always the happiest holiday. In fact, if we expect it to be, we may end up depressed and joyless. Because Christmas is not always joyful for everyone, and may in fact be painful for some.
Some people have experienced the death of a loved one, or a gut-punch of the worst possible news. Others are grieving not what they’ve lost, but what they’ve never had—good health, a loving family, a real home. In the cold darkness of December, depression can chill the warmth of the season.
So the problem is that the idea of a perfect Christmas is too all-or-nothing: If everything is not 100% flawless, then it’s all a bust.
However, true joy is based not on perfection or lack of pain, but on the fact that Jesus has come to reconcile humanity with God. So the joy of Advent is not achieved through careful planning or formulas. It is simply there, waiting for us to turn away from the busy-ness of the Christmas season and embrace it.
Advent does not erase all of our loneliness and sorrows; instead it points to the one who came to heal and redeem them.
C.S. Lewis spent much of his pre-Christian life trying to recapture that fleeting feeling he called “joy.” Yet when he met Jesus, his goal changed. He stopped pursuing joy and started pursuing Jesus, who (Lewis discovered) is able to fulfill every need and desire.
As we celebrate the joy of Advent, I urge you to remember that this joy is for everyone—especially those who mourn, those who have suffered, those who do not feel joyful. Let us welcome the one who traded a heavenly throne for a lowly manger. He came to seek and save the lost, and to set all things right.
Maybe not today, but one day.