What I need to remember -- and offer to you as a thought today-- is that hustle, hurry, stress, violence, and political conflict are only a contrast with Christmas if you are insisting on trying to celebrate one of two cultural Christmas's (that aren't really Christmas at all).
The first non-real cultural Christmas is the "Commercialized Christmas" -- what I'd call "the Feast of the Incarnation of the unholy trinity of Zales, Best Buy, and Audi." This is a commodified Christmas, a "lie-loudly-and-often-enough-that-people-will-believe-they-can-buy-their-way-into-happiness" Christmas. This Christmas is all about, as Wordsworth would say, "getting and spending, which lay waste our powers," forgetting the spiritual meaning of the holiday.
The other non-real cultural Christmas is the "Romanticized Christmas," the Christmas of gentle snowflakes and cute manger scenes with cotton-ball sheep and gauzy evergreens, the Christmas of perfect, predictable families sitting in front of glowing fires, celebrating the "hap, hap, happiest time of the year..."
These cultural "Christmases" both ignore the real Christmas -- the first Christmas described in the Bible. The Christmas we celebrate as followers of Jesus.
First of all, that Christmas was full of hustle, hurry, stress, violence and political conflict. The downside of isolated fairy-tale-like manger scenes -- you know, with Mary and Joseph peacefully sitting adoring a glowing little baby Jesus who is surrounded by adoring shepherds and cattle -- is that that scene just isn't real.
The real scene, as told in the Bible, is of a frightened, young, confused, unwed pregnant girl being forced by the government to journey far from home. She's accompanied by a fiancé who, upon first hearing of her pregnancy, had considered divorcing her. Because the town Mary and Joseph arrive in is overcrowded, they have to give birth to their first child in an animal shed and use a feeding trough as their baby's first crib.
The real Christmas story, the one told in Scripture, is relevant, relevant to the realpolitik of our actual lives and current events: shortly after Jesus' birth, Joseph and Mary must hurry from Bethlehem and flee across the border to Egypt, and live there as refugees. Why? Because a paranoid king, hearing of a potential threat to his power, is plotting their baby's death - and he does in fact send soldiers to assassinate all male children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem.
You see, Christmas as described in the Bible -- the Christmas we celebrate as followers of Jesus -- is neither about commercialism or sentimentality.
And here's the thing:
That same story of hustle, hurry and fear amid murder and politics is announced by the angels as "good news of a great joy."
We need to remember, and re-tell, the real Christmas story because it reminds us why we rejoice this time of year. We rejoice this time of year not because we've had a good or successful year, not because of the gifts we give or receive, and not even because we're surrounded by loved ones.
We rejoice at Christmas because Immanuel: God is with us.
Because God is near.
Because God has entered in.
Christmas means God entered into -- and enters into -- our daily, messy, ordinary, confused, stressful, violent world and lives.
So please rest assured "the Christmas spirit" can be found, not away from the hustle and hurry and schlock and stress and violence and political conflict going on, but in the very midst of it.
That Christmas spirit is ours any time we remember that Christmas is about Immanuel, God with us...God entering in...God being near.