Everywhere I've ever been I find walking routes. I need them for the sake of the thinking and solitude that keeps me sane and in reasonable perspective. One of my favorite ones from here at school takes about an hour and a half. I walk up one of the roads that leaves campus, eventually turn down a wooded pedestrian path, and end up at a subway terminus where I can ride right back. Even better, right at the intersection of the street and the path is one of those Greek pizza places, where you can stop for a gyro or sangwich.
Anyway, I was doing just this in the threatening gray gloom of today, thinking about a hundred useless things, when I see a man up ahead standing on the edge of the pedestrian path. He was carrying a grungy shopping bag in each hand, and wearing a dirty coat and a Santa hat.
I told him good afternoon, and he immediately responded, "Christmas sucks!"
He then continued, "It's the most miserable time of year! Good for nothing but a chance to get drunk!"
Not really wanting to know where this conversation might go, standing alone there in the artifical urban woods, I bid him good day and went along my way. But then I was thinking about what he said.
For all of the "Christmas cheer" and "ho ho ho" and domestic joy we are supposed to believe in (and buy) this time of year, Christmas is, in fact, partly about misery and despair.
After all, Jesus was born into the obscurity of Nazareth, the homelessness of Bethlehem, and the shame and danger of foreign-occupied 1st century Palestine. And from his birth his destiny was the Cross, which is nothing else but God's identification with our misery, despair, wretchedness, and failure.