This morning I woke up to a rush of questions racing through my mind: Why isn’t God answering any of these prayers? What if this thing I really want doesn’t come? What does my family really think of me? Am I failing at being a friend? Why do I feel so alone? And while insecurities are a normal, everyday battle for me, the exceptional resilience of my fears and discontentment brings me to one conclusion: It must be Christmas.
There is something extraordinary about the way the holidays bring everything to extremes. They intensify every emotion, heighten expectations, and bring the worst and best out in people. Lattes become extra sweet, dull topics become especially controversial, Christmas songs go from eliciting smiles to bringing forth groans in about the span of two weeks. Your heart can experience overflowing generosity and overwhelming stinginess at the same time. And something about holidays can make messy things messier and hard things harder.
Singing “all is calm, all is bright” can feel so very hypocritical when it’s not all calm and bright in us and certainly not in our world.
Yet we feel the pressure to make Christmas merry. “Joy” becomes “I just want to feel good.” “Peace” shifts into “I don’t want to deal with this right now.” “Hope” is distorted into “I won’t be complete without this.” But focusing on the “merry” will make us completely miss Christmas.
Let’s not do Jesus the dishonor of sanitizing and sprucing up Christmas. In preparing our hearts for the arrival of Jesus, let us not clean up our acts, iron our slacks, and trade in the weight and burdens we carry for lighter, more sparkly things. Because nothing will prepare us better for the arrival of Christ than the deep awareness of our need for him.
In reality, “happy” doesn’t come before “Christmas.” But Christ has come to restore true joy. He has come to bring hope to even the messes where there is no “merry” to be found.
And how has he come?
Christ came as a vulnerable babe, so that we might know that we can approach him in our helplessness.
He came homeless and rejected even in the womb, so that we might know that our true Home is not characterized by perfect decorations and smooth family dynamics, but by his presence with us.
He came to be misunderstood, denied, and betrayed, so we would know he understands our most crippling fears and insecurities.
He came to be bloodied and scarred, so we would know that he is the Healer of our deepest and our most painful wounds.
He came to die and come back from death itself, that we would know we are never so far away, too lost, that he cannot reach us.
Jesus came quietly on that silent night, but the first Christmas didn’t consist of him surrounded by a turkey dinner and a well-lit tree with all of his relatives beaming at him (although he could have chosen that). Instead, he chose a mother shamed, a father ridiculed, a tiresome journey, an ungodly trough, and an isolated barn to set the stage for the birth of the Messiah, the One who was rejected from the moment of his conception. He came into that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:11). And that day was called holy, and that is the day we celebrate—because the only perfect thing about that Christmas was the One who was born into it.
The holidays are about joy and traditions, family and friends, giving and receiving. But they’re also about the hard times and loneliness, change and sorrow, heartache and loss. Because Jesus is Lord over all of those things. We don’t worship a God who only cares about happy, cheerful hearts; we worship a God who made it His business to come and save the sad and destitute ones, and who understands the weight of their burdens.
And he is coming again, to bring real justice and real peace to our world, to wipe away every tear, and to take the pain and suffering of this life and redeem it and make the joy and light of this life even brighter.
So as we await his coming, both for Christmas present and Christmas future, as we sing carols and wish friends a happy holiday, may we remember that Jesus's definition of a "merry Christmas" is not one without sorrow, longing, or messiness--but one that is infinitely sweeter because he is there with us in all of it it. In laughter and rejoicing, he is there. In my moments of fear and doubt and loneliness, he is there. From manger to grave and back again, he is God with us.
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting Light,
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in Thee tonight.