On Christmas and “holiday cheer”…

I love Christmas. As a child it was my absolute favorite time of the year. For me, Christmas was about trees and decorations, gifts and food, and family time. And while my family had a certain level of dysfunction (what family doesn’t after all?), it was a joyous time. My holiday memories are mostly happy.

But for others, Christmas may not be such a holly jolly time. There are varied reasons for that, but the bottom line is that Christmas and the holiday season do not always bring warm feelings of yuletide cheer and happiness.

And that is okay.

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I often wonder what that first Christmas must have been like for Joseph and Mary. The scandal of Mary’s pregnancy, the long and difficult journey to Bethlehem, the lack of lodging once they got there. All around, this could not have been easy. There was no train service to Bethlehem, or hotel apps to make reservations ahead of time. Mary road on a donkey or walked alongside Joseph her betrothed, nine months pregnant, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. That’s 68.9 miles, folks. Depending on how many miles they were able to walk in a day, that could have taken about a week to accomplish.

Our telling of the Christmas story is so clean; but the reality was anything but. And although Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and Joseph by an angel and told what was to come, I doubt they had a full understanding of what it all meant. We have the benefit of looking back, of seeing the why behind the what. We have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story. They were in the moment, living it out, not knowing the full story. I am grateful for their obedience in playing their part in the grand story of salvation…

As I think of this, I consider what Christmas is like for my brothers and sisters who live in areas of the world that are not so holly and jolly. Iraq and Syria are particularly heavy on my mind. They will not be gathering around a tree singing carols and drinking eggnog tomorrow night. I cannot imagine what they will feel; but I think a sense of longing will be present there. Longing for our Lord’s return, for the consummation of the kingdom His first advent ushered in. That sense of longing implies a certain amount of travail. Like missing a loved one who cannot be with you.

I wonder if they are closer to the emotion that Advent should invoke than we are here in America.

This year, my heart is filled with a mixture of deep joy and deep sorrow. I am joyful for the first time in a long time that the richness of the Advent season has come alive to me again. I was dry as a bone for so long – the Lord has made these dry bones live again! And for that I rejoice. I am joyful in the fact that I know Him, that I am known by Him, and that I can be called a child of God. None of this is my doing, and it makes my heart fill with gratitude when I consider how completely unlikely a candidate I am for grace.

But that joy is tempered with sorrow. Seeing the suffering happening in all parts of the world, including right here in America. Countries torn apart by war; the uncertainty of America’s future under a new president; the brokenness that looms large in personal relationships and families. All magnified by the season where we are all told we should be jolly and happy. Some days, I don’t feel all that cheerful.

And that’s okay.

I’m not trying to be “Debbie Downer” here…but life under the sun is not easy. Even at Christmas time. And honestly, I don’t think we are called to “holly and jolly” as advertised by Target or Walmart. We are called remember and to wait. Remember His coming and wait expectantly for His coming again. To find our hope and joy in Him, not at the foot of a Christmas tree. And I feel the need to insert here that I am not calling on all of us to tear our robes and wear sackcloth and ashes, or feel guilty if we are cheerful. We have much to be thankful for! I just want to make room at the table for those of you who may not have that same heart and mind right now. I want you to know I’m with you, I see you – and more important God is with you and God sees you. God is with us, no matter where we are, what is happening, or how we feel about it. This is what we celebrate, remember, long for…

He has come…and He is coming again.

Merry Christmas.

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