Outside, the winter’s chill.
Inside, the warm light’s glow.
The atmosphere is still
As Christmas carols ring,
O’erpow’ring all ill will
That often dwells below
And changing hearts until
We all begin to sing.
Her loved one died a few years ago, and she feels like she’s gotten past the initial waves of grief. But at Christmas, she finds it hard to hold back tears.
His situation isn’t comfortable, but he seems to have accepted that. He understands he can’t force change, and he’s decided to wait for the Lord. But during the holiday season, he struggles a bit more than usual to be okay with the way things are.
They’ve prayed for children, and they long to be parents, but they remain a family of two. They understand the Lord is good. They don’t question that truth. But when the weather starts to change and the lights and decorations begin to go up around the town, they feel the ache grow a little stronger.
Christmas is a source of great joy. From the generosity of friends and family to the warmth of love all around, we have much to rejoice in during the holiday season. We’re reminded of Jesus’s birth, of God’s gift of love for a lost world, and we revel in the hope we have through him. Despite the darkness and despair of the rest of the year, Christmas comes as a deep breath, a welcome rest, a warm reminder that light always endures.
Why, then, can this season also make us sad?
In part, I think it’s because of the perspective this season brings. We see in Christmas a bit of the way things ought to be. Peace on earth and good will among men (Luke 2:14) is glimpsed at Christmas, even in a world that remains far from the King. And when we see more clearly how things ought to be, we see more clearly and feel more deeply the way things are now broken. We feel loss a bit more acutely, longing for the fellowship we can no longer access. We struggle with deferred hopes, the sting of present sorrows sinking a bit deeper into our souls. We know the world is broken, and we grieve.
But the sadness of this season is really more bittersweet, for sorrow doesn’t get the final word. We’re reminded of our loss and grief at Christmas, but we’re reminded too of the way God is making all things new. Because of Jesus, everything has changed. Sorrow turns to joy, suffering turns to growth, loss is turned to gain, and confusion is swallowed up in a greater certainty. Pain and hardship are real, but they exist as parts of a larger story, one which makes sense of them and redeems them. Christmas affirms the darkness of the night and promises a bright and fast-approaching dawn.
It isn’t wrong to mourn when we feel sad this season. The absences we feel are real and meaningful. This broken world is a painful world. But we can also rejoice with a joy that runs far deeper than any despair, a love that runs far deeper than any heartbreak, and a hope that runs far deeper than any sorrow. Christmas reminds us that the sad things are temporary things. We ache now because things are not the way they should be, but we are approaching a day when all will be well. So grieve and rejoice. Feel deeply the loss as well as the love. And look to the one whose birth brought hope for all hurting hearts.
Have you ever noticed how important timing is to the Christmas story?
Paul writes that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4). At the right time, Jesus entered the story. Caesar’s decree “that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1) sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Luke records that, “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). Scripture was fulfilled as these events aligned. At the right time and in the right place, Jesus was born.
But timing continued to play a key role in Jesus’s life. Jesus speaks of his hour and his time on multiple occasions (see John 2:4 and John 7:6, for example). He didn’t rush things; he worked according to the time given him. Even his death, according to Paul, occurred “at the right time” (Romans 5:6). Clearly, timing is an important part of the story.
We often focus on the gift of Christmas, and rightly so. At Christmas, we celebrate the entrance of the hero into the action. The Christ appears, the long-awaited Savior who would save his people from their sin. Life and light appear at Christmas like never before, and the darkness hasn’t recovered from the blow. Because of Jesus, we have everlasting hope.
But this year, I’m reminding myself that timing played a role in the story. While I don’t understand all that this truth means, I know it gives us hope when things seem hopeless. God, who knew our greatest need, was neither too early nor too late in providing the solution. God, who saw our helpless state more fully than we ever could, did not send Jesus the moment we fell but instead spoke a promise that was kept over long, hard years of uncertainty, exile, rebellion, blessing, and grace. Through every twist in the narrative, every tragedy and every victory, every loss and every gain, he was working. While I’m sure many before Christ wondered why God seemed to tarry, God sent his Son at the right time.
And we serve the same God. He who met our greatest need continues to provide for his own, and his timing is still best. The waiting is difficult. We can’t see all that the Father sees or know all that he knows, and we grow restless in our ignorance, impatient for provision and for blessing. But our God is good and faithful. He will do what is best in his own time and way, and his timing and way are always best. So we can hope in him this Christmas, for the greatest gift as well as for every good and perfect gift he may give as well, in faith that he will continue to act at the right time.
Cold, crisp air, bright lights, fresh holly
Mingle joy and melancholy.
In this season, saints are jolly
And still cold.
Friendly faces full of laughter
Offer hope. But what comes after?
Garnished rooftops hide a rafter
Bare and cold.
All the best of man’s adorning
May well hide a heart in mourning.
Sorrow rarely gives forewarning
Of its cold.
But this chapter of the story
Is, for him, known territory.
This is still the road to glory,
Long and cold.
Christmas came and comes each season,
A reminder of the reason
Hope endures in spite of treason,
Through the cold.
I love Christmas music.
God has been so very good to me. I don’t remind myself of that often enough
Joy to all the world, to ev’ry creature:
God has come to dwell with his creation.
He who knows us – ev’ry fallen feature –
Put an end to our great separation.
Now his presence leads to our rejoicing
For he turns our mourning into dancing.
In the depths of darkness, we are voicing
Victory: the kingdom is advancing.
Joy now grows in souls steeped in the Spirit,
Joy still true when trials stand before us.
Steadfast, nothing e’er can steal or smear it.
It now fuels the everlasting chorus.
On our journeys, this is holy leaven:
We are strengthened by the joy of heaven.
On Saturday, I attended a wedding. The following Thursday, I attended a funeral. This upcoming Tuesday, I’ll celebrate a birth. All three events are about endings and beginnings, and the first two events, though quite different from each other, find meaning in the third. Continue reading
The wood was rough, but it would serve him well.
He chose it not for elegance or style
But for its faithfulness. A little while
(And, too, a little work) and he could sell
It with a workman’s pride. And he could tell,
Though now it lay unstructured in a pile,
That with some nails, a hammer, and a file,
His work would not be broken though it fell.
Its strength would bear its strength one dark noel
(The first of all). And in its content’s smile
Was love born now to one day reconcile
On other wood, the darkness to dispel.
His parents smiled as into sleep he fell.
The wood was rough, but it would serve him well.
The story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man in Mark 2 has long confused me.