Trees are going up, lights are being hung, halls are being decked, cards are being sent. For most, the magic of another Christmas season has begun.
The month of December is swollen with nostalgia and festivities, events and shopping, family and friends. Littered with goodwill and acts of service, December truly can be a joyous season, a bright few weeks in bleak times.
But what happens when you are doing all the seasonal “stuff” and your heart still feels far from the ethereal Christmas spirit, a phrase that gets tossed around among the tinsel? What should you do when you are lighting the Hope Advent calendar and doing your daily readings, but your heart feels stuck, heavy, and hopeless?
Those who can’t manufacture the Christmas emotions of joy and gratitude often compound their sorrows with layers of guilt and shame. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be thankful for all that I have?
Santa hats don’t hide sadness well, and even the best gifts can’t alleviate grief.
Room for Tears
There is room for tears in the tinsel. In fact, when the twinkling lights aren’t enough to light up a heavy heart, the stage is set well for the true Christmas spirit.
We love to quote Isaiah 9:6 during the Christmas seasons, and well we should. The words capture the hope of Christmas, Jesus Christ, God Incarnate come to earth:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
There is much to celebrate during the Christmas season, most notably as we remember the inauguration of a series of events that changed the fabric of history and humanity for all eternity. We do well to sing, to toast, to cheer, to give generously in memorial of Christ’s birth. The light of the world came to invade the darkness.
However, the context of said verse from Isaiah reminds us that the light shines most brightly in the background of deep darkness.
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish…The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shone.
Just as the physical darkness was pierced by the star that led the Magi to Christ, the spiritual darkness was pierced by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Gloom took a huge hit when Christ was born and was dealt a fatal blow in his resurrection.
But we live in the already/not yet. The darkness is disseminating, but it still shadows us. Christ came and secured for us the coming kingdom of light, inviting us in by his grace. But the darkness of losing loved ones, mourning injustice, and fighting depression and cancer is still present. Such real darkness cannot be chased away by Christmas trees or candy or vacations with family and friends.
Christmas looks back to the manger, but it also looks ahead to the day when the remnant of gloom and darkness will be swallowed up by what is life:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…For while we are still in these tent, we groan, being burdened- not that we could be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by what is life. He who has prepared for us this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage.
–2 Cor. 5:1-6
If you find yourself crying tears into your tinsel or grieving while decorating your gingerbread house this Christmas, remember that you are not alone.
A building from God—a house made without hands, decked far more beautifully than any mansion here—is coming. Soon, all gloom will be consumed by the full and final coming of the Light of the World.
Paul’s charge to the Corinthian church applies to us today. Be of good courage this Christmas season, whether it finds you in great joy or great grief.