I love all the traditions that come with Christmas…getting the Christmas Tree, decorating, eating certain types of foods, the sweets and cookies, families and friends gathering, worship services, concerts, nativity scenes, Christmas carols, all of it and more! There is nothing like a cold, clear, crisp December night when the moon casts its shadow over the bare tree limbs across the frosted ground. Christmas lights and carols provide the perfect backdrop for this splendid scene. There are so many things in the atmosphere that get lifted when Christmas rolls around each December. I love everything about it.
I also recognize that for many, Christmas only serves to magnify the hurt and loneliness that already exists. For many, Christmas only reminds them of loved ones they miss so dearly. Some people are not surrounded by loving, wonderful families. For some, Christmas used to be a time of expectation and hope, but now it only reveals the realities of heartbreak. Simply put, there are those who simply don’t look forward to Christmas at all. I understand.
As much as I love Christmas, I have had a few Christmases where I just wish I could hit the reset button and do it over again. I’ve also had those “first Christmas” experiences without loved ones, both friends and family. We will be having one this year.
No doubt, the COVID Christmas of 2020 will be one that people will talk about for years to come, or it will be the one they decide to scratch completely off the memory books. I have seen and heard many say that Christmas won’t be the same this year, due to the pandemic and so many other things. COVID has come in like a bull in a ceramic shop and seemingly threatened to wreck all of the traditions we hold so dear. I applaud the efforts of churches, cities, and organizations who are doing their best to move forward in a difficult situation, but the mountain of obstacles and challenges seems to grow daily.
One of those “reset” Christmases was a few years ago when I walked out of the hospital in Monroe, NC on December 23. I had just been to visit my mom, who was there battling a severe case of colitis. I got into my car, just two days before Christmas, wondering if my mom was going to spend Christmas in a hospital. As I started the car, Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas” began to play and all I could think was, “This is not how Christmas is supposed to look” and I wept uncontrollably in my car in that parking lot.
In that moment, I was reminded of what I already knew. It was as if God said to me, “How is Christmas supposed to look?” Well, in my mind, I’ve always had my picture-book ideal for how it’s supposed to look, but I was left speechless in my tears. In that moment, I knew that all the stuff I wanted Christmas to look like certainly had value and made Christmas nice. But in truth, it’s just the icing and fluff of Christmas. It’s not the essence of it.
The first Christmas happened in a lonely, dark, feeding trough for animals. The world was spiritually very cold and dark when Christ came into it. There were no parades, no one serving hot chocolate. The Bible says this of Jesus in Isaiah 53, that there was “nothing beautiful or majestic in his appearance, nothing that would attract us to him. He was despised and rejected and a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” Not exactly the way I’d want my Christmas to look. But that same chapter also says that all of this was because he was carrying our weakness and sorrow. He was actually “pierced for our rebellion and crushed for our sins.” And in the end God called this a “good plan” because it was His will to bring us back to relationship with Him. Good coming out of the deepest of hurts. If you really want a Christmas story, there is one for you.
The Bible says in Matthew 1:23 that Jesus is “Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” That means God in the neighborhood, God in the hospital, God in the despair, God in the hurt, God in the loneliness, God in the gutter, God in the pandemic. Not “God, the man upstairs” or “God way over there,” but “God with us,” right here in the middle of it…WITH US. Sometimes He takes us out of life’s pain, but many times He takes us through it, but at all times, He is “with us.” That is what Christmas is really all about.
This same God knocked on the door of my heart the Summer between my 6th and 7th grade year and I invited Him in and He has been with me ever since. Through good and bad, He has never abandoned me. He is as real to me as anything I have every experienced, and He has proven it every single day of my life, even when I’ve questioned Him and wrestled with Him.
Christmas is not in a store, a program, a recital, a decoration, a party, a gathering, a catalog, or a tradition. Sure those things make it nice and we should thank God for them. But for those who still hear the timeless pronouncement of the angels, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people, unto you is born the Savior, Christ the Lord,” Christmas is still something to be excited about. It means hope has come into the world. It means God is making everything new and all of these trials are bringing us to something of greater value…Glory! That is a reason to still be joyful!
Sure, maybe some of the old traditions will look a little different this year. Maybe we’ll be missing someone very greatly. But Christmas is here and it’s come as gloriously as it always does. If you know Jesus personally, it’s right where it’s always been and always will be, in your heart…because God is “with us.” Hallelujah!