Tears trailed down my face during the last minutes of Criminal Minds. The FBI had needed to catch a veteran whose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused him to kill people he thought were enemies. The FBI wisely developed a bridge between his PTSD and present reality, but just before the veteran emerged from his personal hell, a sniper shot him in the back. That night, the toll of PTSD entered U.S. living rooms. My tears ran silently as I thought of the millions who live with PTSD around the world and my desire to wash away all their pain.
I muted the sound and watched an Audi with a bright red Christmas bow turn into a driveway and T.J. Max singers dance silently through shopping malls, glaring in contrast to the pain of the world I’d just seen and felt. I thought how much more the message of Christmas had been present in Criminal Minds than in the Christmas ads.
For you see, the Christian holiday of Christmas celebrates our strange belief that the Creator of the Universe took human form in a baby born into a world at war in an occupied country, not in a shopping mall. His family knew people who suffered from PTSD caused at the hands of Roman guards. They stood up for each other and found ways to celebrate the goodness of life, even in tough times. The Holy One is still present in just such as world, the world of today.
So I decided that as I stand in line to make my purchases, as I create elaborate cookies in the kitchen, decorate the mantle and drink mulled cider, I can remember that Christmas is not about these trappings, as nice as they are. At their best, they merely point to the One who shows me I matter to the Creator of the Universe. At their best, they remind me that I was born with giftedness and goodness in my being that matters to God.
As I hang ornaments on our Christmas tree, I can imagine before me the people for whom God became as vulnerable as a little baby: the emblematic man on Criminal Minds and all the others who know personally the hell of PTSD; families who live in cars this year because they lost their jobs and houses; immigrants who live in fear of discovery; and people in places like Haiti where earthquake, flood, and cholera wreak devastation. I can imagine people coping with physical or mental illness, death and grief. As I decorate our Christmas tree, I can remember God’s love for all of us, as well, love so deep as to share our human condition.
At our most faithful, Christians give gifts at Christmas as a way of sharing our joy that God is with us, even in the pain and evil of the world. At our most faithful, our Christmas acts of kindness come from the well of love placed in us at birth, and our gratitude for that love.
Christmas wasn’t created centuries ago with the idea of cars wrapped in bows. It celebrated God’s love for the world, God’s willingness to trust the world to human hands, and God’s hope and confidence that we can act from the best of our human nature.
Christmas carols exist because of hope in the face of a world at war. Candles shine in windows to bring hope in the context of silent factories, parents who struggle to pay bills, children who sleep in fear, and a world polluted with our careless waste. Christmas comes each year because no matter how much darkness and despair encompass the world, God’s light shines in that darkness and shall not be overcome.
I doubt that the creators of Criminal Minds had this in mind when they wrote this episode, nor the network when it decided the schedule. But in its portrayal of compassion in the face of suffering, willingness to enter vulnerably the reality of another’s world, and a tenacious grasp on hope even when current events want to extinguish it; this week’s Criminal Minds carried a Christmas message. It showed the reason for Christmas: love, hope, and light that shines in the darkness.
Learning: Remember that Christmas is a celebration of God’s love for all of us and God’s hope for peace. Make each of your Christmas preparations a reminder of that love and hope.