Most of us have certain expectations when it comes to Christmas: joyous celebrations, lavish giving, magazine-worthy food and decor, and large family gatherings filled with light hearts, love, and laughter. Essentially, we want nothing short of perfection. But for many, this isn’t the reality of the holiday season.
I was eight years old when I first glimpsed this “other” side of Christmas. I was sitting in front of the Principal’s Office with my best friend and tears were streaming down her face. We had been practicing for our school’s Christmas concert and our choir instructor had us rehearsing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” I was oblivious, singing loudly beside her, “…through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow,” and the pain those words brought her were audibly heard by all. Her Dad had died earlier that year, and this was her first Christmas without him. Instead of joyful expectation, it was a time of suffering, hardship, and dread.
Grieving at this time of year comes in all shapes and forms. We might grieve the death of a loved one, the pain of broken relationships, or the loss of financial stability, all of which bring stress, anxiety, and heartache to this supposedly wonderful time of year. And yet, we’re told in Scripture that this is a time of great joy for all people. How can this be? And what do we do when this isn’t our reality?
Looking back to that first Christmas, the reality is it was filled with pain and hardship, too. Mary, who was just a teen and not yet married, was found to be pregnant. Imagine the stigma and disgrace that surrounded her. Joseph stood by her, and yet, he was probably shamed and scorned as well. They were poor so this child brought a financial burden that rested heavy on their shoulders. And to make matters worse, they had to travel a great distance, with Mary nine months pregnant, for a seemingly ill-timed Census, only to find there was no room in the inn and they had to give birth in a stable instead. This was their reality and yet still there was a glimmer of hope.
God had promised that this child would be the great King whose rule and reign would never end. He would be Light for those walking in great darkness (Isaiah 9:2). He would save His people from sin (Matthew 121), and He would Judge in righteousness bringing peace and restoration to a people in need (Isaiah 9:6-7). This was the hope of that first Christmas. A hope anchored in a future promise fulfilled and the One who came to fulfill it.
That first Christmas wasn’t without hardship, struggle, or pain. It didn’t come wrapped in perfect circumstances or an easy life. In fact, it wasn’t about those things at all. It was about a “Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” It was about Immanuel, God with us, dwelling among His people. It was about a perfect Lamb born to give life. And it was about His Kingdom’s reign, here on earth as it is in heaven.
In the greatest act of love ever shown, God sent His Son to earth, not to condemn it but to save it. He took the sin of the world upon His shoulders and died so we could live.
Our joy at Christmas doesn’t come from our circumstances or the physical reality of what the day might actually hold for us. It comes when we fix our eyes on Christ and trust our past, present, and future to Him.
Does this mean our hurt, pain, and grief don’t matter? No, not at all!
God sees our pain and enters in when we let Him. But He also invites us to look to Him and put our hope in Him, trusting that a day is coming when the One who loves us far more than we could ever imagine will return and bring us home. That will be a day filled with joyous celebration, lavish giving, and the largest love-filled family gathering we’ve ever experienced – the perfect Christmas we’ve all been waiting for.