I can’t believe it is that time of year again. We have roughly two weeks before Thanksgiving arrives and Christmas is on its heels. There are many ways to express the message of the season. We shop till we drop, give presents, mail Amazon packages of goodies or plan trips to be with loved ones.
However, no other time of year elicits feelings of sadness and loneliness like the holiday season. All five of the human senses go into overdrive during this time. It might be a favorite carol or Christmas hymn, the smell of food or pine, the sight of decorations, the memory of a loved one, exhaustion or a host of other things that can trigger a paralyzing grip on our emotions and attitudes. The opposing poles of sadness to anger get us so fed up with the stereotypes of the perfect Christmas that we find ourselves feeling hollow from the entire experience. Like the tomato juice commercial, we say on December 26th, “Wow, I could have had a V8.”
The holidays can be a time when syrupy and unrealistic images of Christmas usher in depression and exhaustion. The contemporary landscape of our culture and its consumerist love affair with Christmas only fuel this plethora of emotions. It is because of these feelings of emptiness or hollowness that people dread such days. How can we refocus during Thanksgiving and Advent season so that we can avoid the hollow days?
The dictionary defines “hollow” as without substance, worth, character, a cavity, hole or space, a void. Psychologists call the phenomenon Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some say it’s just a case of the winter blues. However, SAD is recognized in the DSM-IV (The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual) as a subtype of major depressive episode. Can you believe they have a name for this stuff?
Think you are SAD? Got a poor appetite, gaining or losing a lot of weight, experiencing fatigue and craving sweets? Difficulty concentrating? Irritable? Increased sensitivity to social rejection? Avoiding social situations? You got your smiling face or “happy light” on 24/7?
You could be getting hollow, not holy, if this is the case. Sadder than a sick dog. Sadder than someone who has had all the chocolate licked off of their candy. Sadder than a Christmas parade in a cold, soaking rain. Sadder than a picture without a frame. Bluer than blue and sadder than sad.
Charles Brown hit the nail on the head for some when in 1960 he wrote his now recognizable lyrics to the saddest Christmas classic ever, Please Come Home for Christmas:
Bells will be ringing the glad, glad news
Oh what a Christmas to have the blues
My baby’s gone, I have no friends
To wish me greetings once again
Choirs will be singing “Silent Night”
Christmas carols by candlelight
Please come home for Christmas
Please come home for Christmas
If not for Christmas, by New Year’s night
SAD is linked to issues of light and length of day, not temperature or hearing “Jingle Bells” every time you visit the mall. However, this syndrome tends to be more pronounced during this season.
Advent should be a time to recover the meaning of the Incarnation. The emphasis on family, fuzzy feelings, eggnog, shopping at Crabtree Valley Mall and chocolate-covered cherries are all good. However, a clearer emphasis on why our days are hollow may help some people rediscover that the Christmas season is so much more than the cultural celebration of the Christ.
Even in the church we can fall prey to the hyper-commercialism that gives us a lot of Hallmark warm-fuzzies about Christmas. There are a lot of Christians who experience the tinsel and tapestries of Christmas without ever being inspired to actually change anything about their lives.
We can do this by viewing the holidays as holy days and savoring the Savior’s presence in our world. Advent should be a hallowed time, not a hollow time. These are days to bring to people the God whose child was born for us to live, days to give hope for a future that rests in God, a future whose seeds are planted in the present situations of everyday life.
Many would not think about their own vices being at the root of their misery.
Things like gluttony, pride, greed, lust, wrath, envy and slothfulness zap the joy out of days that should be full of energy and happiness. Instead of enjoying the season, we end up empty with weariness and despair. Have you ever considered that the “seven deadly sins” listed above are the reason why your days are hollow instead of holy?
The holy days of Advent leading to Christmas are days to run to church and worship and praise God for the blessed gift of His Son. The Apostle Paul said, “We thank him (God) for the joy we have in his presence because of you” (1 Thessalonians 3:9). The key word in Paul’s greeting is “presence.” When people refuse or neglect to find God in their present, in their now, their days become hollow days, not hallowed days. God always lives in the present. God is love. God is here. God is . . . God lives in the present situations of people, all people. His presence can never be discovered in a gift box.
Hollowness is usually in the heart. Maybe what we need is a self-examination of motives of the heart. Could any of these vices be torpedoing our joy of the holiday experience? We must monitor our hearts so that when the 2015 holiday season ends, we will have grown in our faith, drawn closer to family and prioritized our giving by doing what is really important during this blessed season. Stay tuned!