“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” -Charlie Brown
Ever since my son was a toddler, trains were his thing. Each ride in the car brought promise to spot train tracks and the ultimate prize, a locomotive with cars in tow. His face would always light up with bountiful joy.
On one particular afternoon, I spotted the train before he did.
“Do you see it?”
“Brendan, it’s right there.” (Parental condescension at its best.)
“I don’t see it.”
This was beyond my comprehension. “How do you not see it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Brendan, it’s right there.”
Exasperated. “I don’t see it!”
I turned my head slightly to the right to keep my eyes on the road and ascertain why my son, sitting in the backseat, was not spotting this obvious sight.
He was looking out his side window. The train could only be seen through the front windshield.
“Brendan, you need to turn your head this way. You’re looking out the wrong window.”
He turned his head and saw the train.
It’s Christmas time…again. Time for festivities compounded with obligation. We round the corner from Thanksgiving and are greeted by copious shopping, baking, decorating and wrapping.
Every year I tell myself that this year will be different. I vow to slow down, have a “simple” Christmas, and focus on the things and story that matter most. Like a dieter with all the best New Year’s intentions, I arrive 25 days later only to look back and feel guilt and shame, wondering how I failed so miserably.
And so I drive through Advent, looking out the side window and miss what I truly want to see. Because all those other things outside the side window seem nice and pretty and important. It’s the story that tends to get trampled on and buried. If we’re lucky, we pull it out just in time for Christmas Eve, sing a couple of songs and light a candle. From thence it gets buried again, under the ripped paper and boxes of new stuff.
And this is why I need church. It’s the not the same reason I needed church in my teens or 20s or even 30s. Amidst the roller coaster of my love/hate relationship with this institution that can be both beautiful and an ugly mess, I still need it. I need that voice to remind me that, quite often, I’m looking out the wrong window.