Hey everyone, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret:
It’s Christmas time.
I know this will probably come as a shock to most of you. The Christmas season is usually pretty subtle and easy to miss. There are very few indicators that Christmas has come around again. I mean, other than the lights and lasers and inflatable who-knows-whats on every house and lawn, and the constant barrage of Mariah Carey and Pentatonix playing at the mall, and the never-ending stream of holiday-themed advertisements in every possible venue, and the jolly, fat, bearded fellows waiting to listen to the wishes of children at every department store. Aside from those telltale signs, Christmas is pretty much like the rest of the year.
Yeah, okay, so I may have employed just a wee bit of sarcasm there.
The fact is, it’s impossible not to notice when the Christmas season comes around. From the day after Thanksgiving until we ring in the New Year, it’s a remarkable season unlike any other time. Christmas is something wholly unique; a time for family and friends, for joy and merry-making, for celebrating hope and new beginnings. Christmas is a beautiful, precious time of year.
But it doesn’t always feel like it. I may be walking on thin ice here, but I think it’s vital to acknowledge that we don’t always feel happy at Christmas time.
It seems to me that there has come to be a sort of stigma around admitting to experiencing sadness during this joyful time of year. We feel like we are supposed to be happy; after all, it’s Christmas! We hide any stress or sorrow beneath a mask of false optimism, while internally scolding ourselves for feeling this way. If I’m not happy, I must not have enough Christmas spirit! That means I’m practically a Scrooge! Somehow, we have gotten it into our heads that we must always be happy at Christmas; that Christmas is a time to banish all heartache and escape from reality into a magical dreamland of peppermint and sugar-plums.
But that is not what Christmas is about. The Christmas season is not a time to close our eyes to the brokenness of the world around us. Yuletide is not about hiding from the darkness. Christmas is about finding hope in a hopeless world. It is about clinging to the sliver of light that still shines in the midst of deep darkness. It does not mean that we should ignore the heartache that we deal with every day, and it does not mean that we should expect our problems to magically melt away in December.
The true meaning of Christmas is found in the beautiful event that Christmas is meant to commemorate. Over 2000 years ago, a child was born of a poor virgin and laid in a dirty manger. His birth was not heralded by kings or proclaimed loudly in the streets; he came quietly into our world, a soft whisper of life in a land that screamed of death. That first Christmas did not come in a season of whimsical happiness. On the contrary, that first Christmas came in the midst of terrible darkness. The people of God had fallen away from Him, and had been conquered by an ungodly empire that persecuted the faithful remnant of the Lord. The original Christmas came during a time of pain and fear, not the “most wonderful time of the year” we so often seek. But the sorrow that surrounded it did not make the first Christmas any less beautiful.
In fact, it was precisely because the world was so dark that the light of the first Christmas shone so brightly. Jesus came to heal our hurt and cast out our shame; he did not pretend that our sorrows did not exist, but came in the midst of our brokenness to mend us. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31)
If you are dealing with pain, or sorrow, or stress, or shame, or anything else that seeks to break you down this Christmas season, I pray that you would remember what Christmas is really about. Don’t buy the lie that you’re supposed to feel happy all the time at Christmas, because it simply isn’t true. If you’re feeling like you’re not really getting in the “Christmas spirit,” perhaps it’s because you’re defining Christmas spirit entirely wrong. The spirit of the season isn’t a warm-and-fuzzy feeling of constant happiness. You should not expect your problems to melt away and be replaced with an enchanted warmth inside. Instead, the spirit of Christmas is about holding on to hope in the middle of your struggle. To celebrate Christmas is to remember the hope of a brighter dawn, and the constant hope that we have in Christ.
Christmas is not a joyful time because it is devoid of sorrow or the world’s usual heartbreak. There is no less sadness in December than there is any other time of the year. But at Christmas we remember to set our focus on the beauty that shines through the cracks of our broken world. Christmas is a time to set our hearts and minds on the light that glimmers in the darkness. We ought not forget that there is still sadness in December, but then, neither should we forget that there is joy the rest of the year. Christmas is about a change of focus, inclining our hearts toward the salvation in the midst of the sorrow. Christmas is a season of hope.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”