© Jeremy D. Nickel 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
December 19, 2010

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Listen to Audio Version of Sermon (mp3)

As we explore the world traditions around the longest night, I am reminded that we Americans have our own secular tradition for marking this time of year: It is the descent into Holiday Madness. I have always chuckled at the notion that there is a war on Christmas, because if there is one, it's clear to me that Christmas is winning, hands down. Now, one could parse that out and claim that there is a dumbing down of Christmas, a reduction of its theological power in exchange for your hard earned dollars boosting our economy. But Christmas itself appears to be in no danger at all. I recently read an article detailing the prevalent tradition of American Jewish households celebrating Christmas, so it is clearly alive and well and even ever-present beginning the second after the Thanksgiving turkey is digested.

If anything, Christmas is taking over. Radio stations that otherwise play rock and roll or classical music suddenly devote the majority of their airtime to Christmas jingles. Every store is advertising Christmas specials, restaurants serve holiday food, and otherwise rational people devote the majority of their waking hours to cookie manufacturing. I promise I don't mean to sound so 'bah humbug' about this, because I actually enjoy the fact that this holiday is an important excuse to gather with friends and loved ones to reconnect, but I am also aware that I am far from alone in experiencing some Christmas fatigue as well.

The fact of the matter is, despite all the holiday cheer - or perhaps because of it - December is the most likely time of the year for people to wrestle with depression. And, even more alarmingly, it is the month of the year with by far the highest suicide rate. If you think about it, it is a perfect storm of stresses that wash over many of us this time of year. We feel pressure to spend and consume beyond our needs and abilities and pressure to appear in the holiday spirit through the adornment of our homes and bodies. Perhaps most difficult for many, there are painful reminders around every corner of those who are not with us, whether because of death, the estrangement of divorce, or just due to the geographical realities of our modern spread-out lives.

I think of my dear old grandfather who, by no fault of his own or of anyone else in the family, has wound up living in mid-coast Maine, literally 3,000 miles and a plane trip he can no longer endure, away from any real family. And when you are alone around the holidays, all that cheer and all those well-intentioned wishes of Merry Christmas merely amplify the feeling of isolation, the feeling that you are outside of the norm and somehow wrong for feeling blue at this time of year.

I think that is a dangerous notion. I think this holiday madness allows little time or space for us to be real about where we are. We must be able to feel our full range of emotions in December as much as, if not possibly more than, during other months.

Let's face it, 2010 has been an especially difficult year for many. The economy has been slow to regain its strength and so the stresses of the holiday season are as acute as ever. This combination of factors can lend a whole new meaning to the idea of the longest night, as the season continues to drag on with painful reminders from late November until the New Year - a long night indeed for those not in the holiday spirit.

But here at Mission Peak we want you to bring your full self. I hope this is one place that you don't feel the need to fake a smile just because it's a few days before Christmas. This is a place where you can be reassured that no matter what is going on with your emotional self, you are not alone. There are not only other people here feeling the same way you are, but there are others who love you even if they are not in the same place. This is why our faith home is so essential to our well-being, to our on-going emotional health, because here we can be real. Here, we don't have to pretend everything is all right just because the calendar, radio station and local mall appear to be conspiring against us.

So I simply remind you, during this holiday season, that more than a bike or a scarf or even a good book, the greatest gift that you can give someone is to meet them right where they are, with no judgments, just love. It can make all the difference to someone who is feeling down to just be able to acknowledge that fact and be heard by another human being. If we can do that here at Mission Peak, then we can bring it with us outside these walls and bring back a little of the magic this season really stands for.

May it be so. Ashe.

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