I’ve always loved Christmas. Everything about it. Any season that comes with it’s own soundtrack is bound to appeal to someone like me. I also love that it comes with it’s own scents, like mulled cider, fir trees and cookies baking. But even though I’m not a strict traditionalist, I love the intentionality of celebration that Christmas requires. You have to plan months in advance to celebrate this holiday – meal planning, lists of gifts to purchase, scheduling parties and activities, decorating. There’s a lot to love about this holiday.
All of this ceremony is meant to annually bring us back to a state of mind of celebrating the simple yet most important things: our families, our faith and ultimately the gift of our Savior.
I suppose it’s only natural that a season that is so full of joy, brings along it’s share of sadness. At least for me it does. The older I get the harder I have struggle to avoid the Christmas blues. It seems like quickly on the heels of spending an afternoon laughing and shopping with friends, comes an evening of sitting alone by the Christmas tree watching It’s A Wonderful Life and thinking how it’s just one more tree I put up by myself, one more year sitting on the couch cuddling with my dog, one more year without my own children or my own love to stealthily buy gifts for. Even still, it is a wonderful life. There are more happy times and more things to be joyful of certainly but the inevitable reality chaser gets harder to swallow every year.
It’s just hard to be alone at Christmas. Everything about it is designed for families or couples. Even the television programming. George Bailey finds his desire to live again only after realizing how much he loved his family and seeing how his life impacted theirs.
In one of my favorite books, Girl Meets God, the author talks about spending a Christmas evening in her Manhattan apartment alone feeling sad about her singleness. She starts talking to one of the many Jesus icons she has hanging around her apartment and yells at him, “You were supposed to be enough.” And of course, she realizes that He is enough but I can’t help but think . . . she’s still sad and alone and talking to inanimate objects. This is a Christmas story I can relate to.
I had a moment like that this morning. Honestly, I headed to church out of obligation. I have a class to teach. The choir was putting on their musical and I wanted to support by listening but my heart was heavy and I did not want to hear songs about joy and peace. As so often I do at church, I sat there among 800 or so people feeling completely alone and exposed. I felt this hardness in my heart. I just didn’t want to hear this or feel anything especially not the feeling of guilt that accompanied the hardness because I knew I shouldn’t be acting like such a baby! I knew I wasn’t following the “Christmas Celebration Rules” all good Christians must follow.
But music is always harder for me to tune out than a speaker (sorry Pastor Mark) and between the scripture and the beautiful melodies, I was reminded that all of this celebration is meant to be pomp and circumstance announcing the arrival of Emmanuel, God with Us. It should be about celebrating His life not mine.
In Isaiah 9 we are told that the ‘great light’ came to people who were walking in darkness and the light dawned on those living in the land of the shadow of death. Jesus didn’t come into the world to those who were surrounded by everything they wanted or needed. He came into the world for those who were living with great need.
Maybe the Christmas blues are part of the process of Advent. The understanding that life isn’t always this perfect dream. In fact, it’s often a complicated mess and STILL it is a wonderful life. The truth that without The Great Light we would all be in complete darkness should make us appreciate the light more. The anticipation of the coming of the Great Deliverer is only complete when we acknowledge that we ourselves need deliverance. That’s where the joy comes from. Not from celebrating the absence of disappointments and failures in our lives but from the realization that we aren’t alone in our circumstance whatever that may be.
So, I am sitting here beside my dog and a beautifully lit Christmas tree feeling sad. While I don’t have any pictures of Jesus on my wall to talk to, I am still reminded that while the world conspires to make me feel all alone, I am not. Emmanuel has come. God with us. God with me. I’m still sad but comforted and learning to find peace in His presence. He is enough. He is the only thing that can be.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned… For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2,6
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” — which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23