The “unChristmasy” Christmas
I sat with tears rolling down my cheeks. Despite being in the midst of a church service, and a Christmas service at that, I felt the hardness of my heart. Unforgiveness was squeezing me and I felt that every time I tried to let it go, I pulled back again at the last moment, wanting to be justified, wanting my pride to be assuaged. I cried for my hurt feelings, but even more, I cried for the hard heartedness that was making it so difficult for me to forgive something I knew to be such a minor and petty thing. Why is it so hard Lord? How could I sit there, with the songs and scriptures of Christmas around me, and be struggling like this?
Yet as I sat in that service and listened and breathed in the words and meditated on their truths, that hardness began to melt. I didn’t have to get myself right for Christmas.
Christmas exists because I am not right.
May Your Days Be Merry and Bright
There is just something in the air as Christmas approaches. We busy ourselves with buying, baking, and decorating. We perform our traditions, sometimes with gusto, sometimes because it feels like the only thing we can muster. Sometimes that “Christmas cheer” is nowhere to be found. The nightly news, and perhaps the current events of your own home can seem so out of place with the Christmas season. The terrorist attacks that seem to be coming in like tidal waves- Paris and Beirut, San Bernadino, threats in LA and Belgium…among others. I know a teenage girl who succumbed to cancer just a few weeks ago, and I have a friend who lost her job and an aunt just in the last few days. I have days or nights like the one I described above. This isn’t what Christmas is supposed to be like, right?
Many have lost loved ones at other times than Christmas, and yet their Christmases are forever changed. We feel those absences strongly on a day that is supposed to be full of happiness and peace. Yet for many people the day never quite lives up to the hype. Christmas certainly carries an aura about it, as it should, yet I’ve been thinking lately about how that aura gets so misguided and can lead us to miss the true joy of the season, especially when Christmas does not feel like Christmas.
If you have watched a Christmas movie in your life time or seen a Christmas advertisement, then you’ve received the message of the new lesser Christmas. It is the Christmas that is about good things, that misses the real thing- the GREATEST thing. The message is told again and again that this holiday is about giving, it is about cheer, it’s about being with people you love, it’s a time for romance, a time of magic and wonder, a time of peace. Closest to hitting the mark perhaps is the line from the favorite Christmas Movie, Home Alone (side note, if you haven’t already checked it out, go watch this Honest Trailer on Home Alone). In the movie Kevin’s mom, desperate to get home to the son she left behind, tells the airport worker “This is Christmas! It’s the season of perpetual hope!”
The Hurt and Hope of Christmas
Christmas IS a season of hope. Sadly however, we are prone to focus that hope on the “Christmas Spirit”, a rather ambiguous term that is more likely the ‘human spirit.’ This causes Christmas to be twisted into something about us- where we are trying to live up to an ideal, trying to create a perfect day, a perfect memory that can fuel us in the future, trying to pretend that the world is a magical place for a day. Thus a Christmas alone or without romance feels empty, a Christmas without that missing beloved one just stings, our time of peace is more of a cease fire and we know that fighting will commence in just a few hours, when dinner burns or company is late or stays too long, we are agitated because this does not fit the mold of “perfect Christmas.” Our shelled out lesser Christmas leaves us wanting.
Before getting to the amazing thing that Christmas actually is, you have to get a bit more depressed first. Christmas, literally the “mas of Christ” is a celebration of the Christ. It is not about us at all- at least not directly. It is so much more than a birthday party for a good man. The word “Christ” is the Greek word for Messiah, a Savior. Jesus was born into this world, not to be a teacher, not to merely show the world ‘how to love’ (human slang for ‘be nice to people’) but to be a sacrifice and a Savior. He was born to die.
The amazing, crazy, and wondrous thing about this birth, and this death, is that it is the answer to all other deaths. In one of my absolute favorite passages of the Bible, John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, is overjoyed at his son’s birth– his son who would be the precursor to Jesus coming, thus the precursor to Christmas. Zacharias prophesies about what his son’s life, and the life of the messiah (Most High- read “Jesus”) will be:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:77-79).
John the Baptist’s job was to let people know that someone was coming to save them not just from the sins and darkness of the world, but from their own sin. Someone was coming who would bring light and peace. Someone was coming who would take away the sting of death.
Death to Life
This is the Christmas message! It is not peace because everyone decides to be good for a day, it is not happiness because we’re all going to give each other presents or spend time with loved ones- it is knowledge of salvation, of deliverance from all of the things that darken our lives, of knowing that there really will be a time, as described in the book of Revelations:
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.a He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children (Revelation 21:3-7).
As I sat in that church service, and as I watch the news and see so much tragedy, as I heard of the death of my teenage friend, as I think about others who feel a little more lonely at Christmas, I think about how Christmas itself is the answer to all of this! Christmas tells me that we really do have a future because Jesus really came in the past. He was really born, He really died, and He really rose again. Because He was willing to be born into our world, to grow up and take up all sin onto Himself and pay for it, we can know that ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). There will be a day when my heart no longer struggles to forgive or to love, a day when that same Jesus comes to earth a second time and finishes once and for all what he began at Christmas.
Instead of trying so hard to make our lives feel perfect for Christmas, we can realize that Christmas-that is Jesus coming and dying for the sin of the world, and then conquering death in His resurrection- is the answer to how not perfect life truly is. It is the reminder that true perfection- perfect joy, perfect peace, is coming, because the Messiah already came. In Christmas, Jesus meets us in our loneliness, our guilt, our striving, or even our happiness and joy, and says “I have already done what it takes to bring you something better.”
Christmas speaks peace to my anxious heart, it says rejoice and celebrate your King who was and is and is to come. Rest in what He has accomplished. It’s okay if you bring a heavy heart to the manger, because that once small baby is now a King on a throne with a plan He is bringing to fruition.
So we decorate for Him, we bake for Him, we love others because He loved us, we give because He gave to us, and we hope, because He is the hope of the world.