One of my favorite things about December is the early mornings, before anyone is awake. Okay, early morning quiet times are always a favorite part of the day, but I crave it even more when there are Christmas lights and the smell of pine to accompany me, my journal, my Bible, and a hot cup of coffee. My kids even call our gold upright chair "Mom's quiet time chair".
The other morning I had my hands wrapped tight around my Christmas mug to warm up while I contemplated this year's Christmas. As I was praying, a wave of discouragement washed over as I remembered last Christmas. We have come so far in a year's time but "memory triggers" have a way of transporting you back to memories and emotions that forget progress.
Last year was lousy as my husband was plagued with anxiety and depression. Each fun event of this December reminds me how lonely and exhausting the last one was. Even though we had dealt with anxiety for a couple years, S. hit an all time low and I hit a wall after trying too long to hold our lives together. It was the lowest point in S.'s life and though I trusted the Lord and believed that transformation was coming...there wasn't yet a light on the horizon and I wondered if my hope was in vain.
As I sat in my gold chair, I was frustrated with myself. I should be celebrating that anxiety lost it's hold on S. last February. I should be rejoicing that we are actually enjoying Christmas without frantically planning church services, answering emergencies, and planning events during everyone else's break. This is the first year S. can Christmas carol with us and our neighborhood because we don't have to do ministry two nights a week.
I told the Lord that I didn't like having mixed feelings, or having the true meaning of Christmas tainted because of painful memories. As I prayed, I thought about many people who struggle through holidays. I thought about S.'s family who are cruelly reminded every Christmas of so many family members who have passed away. Losing loved ones makes Christmas feel foreign and unfamiliar. I thought of friends who are lonely as missionaries in foreign countries, aching for comfort and familiarity of home. I thought of people who have endured tragedy, or have broken relationships that strain celebrations.
"Argh! Lord, these hurts put such a damper on celebrating your Son on earth! It stinks that people's pain, memories, and losses are accentuated during this season when we should be focused on what your Son came here for."
Then clear as day: Wait. Isn't this exactly what the 'Christmas message' is about? What do you think the Son came here for?
"Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in the darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Luke 1:69, 77-79
In that moment I felt renewed awe for Jesus' sacrifice- that He would bring His holiness and perfection and put it in the center of smelly (literally in the case of the manger), filthy, sinful misery. Ugliness doesn't taint Christmas. Christmas is about God coming to the center of ugliness with a Master plan for redemption.
Those who know grief, loss, and brokenness are the ones who can rejoice most at Christmas time. Those who know that left to our own, we mess things up and then wallow in self-pity. Those who know the emptiness in a season where we crave being filled. We have a need for a Savior. Not a need for warm fuzzies around the Christmas tree, for the perfect pie, for our kids to be home for the holidays- but a need for a real, in-the-flesh God who came to wipe our tears, to be a "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).
Often Christmas is a reminder that the story isn't complete. Yes, Jesus has come and we can receive forgiveness and restoration in Him. But many promises are yet to come. Affliction on earth still exists and we still wait for our 'happy ending'.
"He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe tears from all faces, the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken." Isaiah 25:8
Now THAT will be the perfect Christmas. Death swallowed up, relationships restored, wrongs made right.
As much as I wish Christmas only had rosy connotations, our failure and shortcomings are bringing me to understand (and desperately grab for) God's grace. I understand more that the Nativity I picture in my head- sweet, smiling shepherds and observant cows... falls short. Jesus came into a world filled with groaning, unrest, doubt, and pride.
I am certain now that nothing can ruin Christmas because the Lord always fulfills His promises and has said,
"He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." Luke 1:32, 33
Ahh... to celebrate what has come and what is yet to come, I'm going to grab a candy cane and hot chocolate and resume my spot next to the tree.