The Christmas Letdown

The days before Christmas was always exciting when I was a child. My little sister and I would start thinking about it way sooner than necessary. We repeatedly paged through the J.C. Penny Christmas catalog, circling the toys we wanted. Once Thanksgiving passed, we would gently press mom and dad to break the rules and put up the Christmas tree before their wedding anniversary of December 11. December was filled with school Christmas programs, church Christmas programs, Friday nights shopping, cookie baking, tree decorating, and so much more all in the lead-up to the holiday.
For all those years growing up, we attended the Sunday School Christmas program at church on Christmas Eve at 7:30 (the last start was because most families were farm families). One or two times in those years my dad was Sunday School superintendent, so we had to be there by 7:00 to make sure any last-minute details got attention. Then, it was off to Grandma and Grandpa Tilstra’s for the extended family Christmas gathering. This party never got started until almost 10:00 and never ended before 1:00 Christmas morning. During the 10-to-15-minute drive home, I watched the snow-covered fields fly by my window, gleaming in the bright moonlight…and the stars seemed to shine brighter than other nights as if to say, “Hallelujah! All is well!” I slept well that night.

Christmas morning was filled with farm chores, a quick breakfast and off to Christmas morning church. We came home to the smell of Christmas dinner cooking, and the tree filled with gifts already opened or waiting to be opened some days later. (We had to work our family Christmas around my older, married siblings’ “other” families). Later that day, we attended mom’s side of the family, the Nyhuis’s, eating, playing games, and laughing sometimes until it hurt.

Driving home that night, watching those same fields fly by as the night before, reality crept into my conscious— “It’s over.” It was incredibly sad. Even with Christmas music softly caressing my ears, sadness filled my heart. “It’s over.” After all the hype and anticipation, after all the fuss and busyness—it was over. Somehow, at that moment, as good as Christmas and all its trappings were—and they were always good—the reality that another Christmas was history pushed me over an emotional cliff. “Is this it? How can December 26 match this? There must be something better to come, that will keep this day alive.” The anticipation and reality of Christmas Day lived up to its hype, but O the letdown of December 26! There must be something better to come that would keep this day alive!

Maybe you’ve never experienced the emotional letdown related to Christmas, but you’ve felt it somewhere else. On this side of glory, nothing ever quite matches up to our hopes and dreams. That does not mean everything is bad, but just that the good things of life never last, or they don’t deliver on all the promises we’ve attached to them. We may land a dream career, but there are days on the job when we wonder if there is anything more. We have a happy, fulfilling marriage, but we realize that it doesn’t offer all that we thought it would. We prosper, but we always want just a little more.

Much of our dissatisfaction is due to sin. But even if we were not fallen, we would long for more. We were, to paraphrase Augustine, made for God, and we will experience restlessness until we see Him face-to-face. We groan inwardly, Paul tells us in Romans 8, longing for the restoration of all things. We know in our heart of hearts that we exist for something more, something better than what created things can offer.

Thanks be to God, we know that if we are in Christ, something more and better is guaranteed to us. A day is coming when our faith will be sight, when we will touch infinity, as it were, for we will be in the presence of our infinite Creator. On that day, we will no longer experience dissatisfaction or anything like the Christmas letdown. For we Christians, the best is truly yet to come.