The Christmas season is often adorned with sappy Hallmark cards, carols on repeat, and movies with heartwarming endings. But many of us grew up home alone without the Christmas Day reunion. We were accustomed to grinches whose hearts never seemed to grow. Did you know that the smash hit Elf was inspired in part by men who—like Buddy—grew up without a dad?
Christmas is often filled with regret, especially when we compare the Hallmark ideal with the realities of life in a broken world. It shines a bright light on pasts that are often filled with trauma, the gaping wounds where love once was or should’ve been, and the hardships nibbling at us in the present.
Before you drown yourself in mugs of warm eggnog, here are a few reminders for how to recover the reason for the season:
1. We weren’t made for an earthly ideal of heaven but for an eternity with our savior.
In all the romantic and nostalgic presentations of Christmas, we’re getting pale imitations of what we were really made for—living in the presence of God. Our visions of an ideal Christmas season are all illusions, presenting an image of human goodness and well-being that can’t possibly be fulfilled.
Instead, paradise is defined by the presence of God: “Today, you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus told the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42). Notice that Jesus said “with me” in paradise. In other words: No Jesus, no paradise. We often make a hell out of our broken experiences and a heaven out of the things we wish we’d experienced instead. We long for picket fences rather than pearly gates. But we were made for more than modern suburban ideals, and if you belong to Christ, you were saved as much from earthly happiness as for it.
2. Jesus came for real sinners, not man-made ideals.
He wasn’t born into a Norman Rockwell painting, friends. Even at birth, there was no room for Jesus—in the inns or in the hearts of men. He was forsaken, born in the dark of night amidst blood and cries before being wrapped in swaddling clothes. He would die the same way, trading his mother’s misery for his own and swaddling clothes for grave clothes. He did not come for the bounteous feast but for the most broken of sinners. Your brokenness is not the exception to the rule for Christmas—it’s what led the eternal Son of God to trade a crown of glory for a crown of thorns. He loves you enough to bring his light to bear upon your darkness.
Trade earthly ideals for grace in the present and true bliss in the future.
This is not a season to celebrate our goodness or that of our circumstances, but the goodness of God. He met us in our brokenness through his Son and by the power of his Spirit. My dad recently reflected on 50 years of knowing Jesus and found consolation—not in the life he has lived but in the life that Jesus lived for him and gave to him. I suffered a great deal this past summer, but in this season of seasons, I remember the Jesus who carried me through my sufferings.
Maybe you, too, are reflecting on a life or season of hardship. Maybe you feel the weight of Lewis’s description of Narnia under the White Witch: Always winter, but never Christmas. Take heart: There will be a day in which present sufferings will recede, and God will be all in all. Real Christmas comes when the one who was born in a manger comes back in immeasurable glory. In this way, the tree you gather around this Christmas not only looks back upon the accursed tree born by your savior, but also looks forward to the day when the tree of life spreads its limbs over the whole landscape of human existence (Rev. 22). We’re not there yet, but when the veil is finally parted, we will find reality much greater than our frail imaginings.