Christmas for the Weary

Christmas doesn’t feel very merry this year.

“I haven’t said Merry Christmas this year,” I admitted to Robert. He looked at me slightly confused, mostly because I blurted out the statement with no context. I went on to explain that as I was checking out at a store earlier in the evening, the woman behind the cash register wished me a Merry Christmas. “All I said was ‘thank you'”. It was a confession and he understood. Christmas doesn’t feel very merry this year.

We received several warnings that the holidays would become more difficult for us now that we have experienced our own loss. I anticipated that this holiday season would be particularly difficult. Now, “difficult” seems like a vast understatement. Our grief has remained, because grief is not something you get over or move past. In fact, if there has been something in your life that you “grieved” and now find you’ve moved on or gotten over it, then it’s safe to say it was not grief you were experiencing, but disappointment and/or sadness instead. While my grief has remained intact with waves, I seem to be experiencing a relapse of the most intense grief.

In the weeks following Jane’s death I found ordinary things to be vexing and isolating. I remember walking down an aisle in the grocery store, tears streaming down my face, wondering how everyone could be carrying on with life normally. When the sun rose on Tuesday morning, February 25th it felt like a betrayal. So much of the fog of those first few days and weeks has lifted. I can see that of course the sun would rise. I know that people carried on with normal life, because their life was still normal. Lately, I find myself surrounded by the merriment of the season and it feels like harsh blows to my weary soul.

But this raises some important questions. What am I really celebrating? If this tradition of Christmas is only for the affluent in America, is it really Christmas? If the “hope” and” joy” the season brings seems bitter and futile to a weary world, is it really the hope and joy of Jesus? In the popular Christmas song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” there is a line that sings, “from now on our troubles will be out of sight.” If my troubles are still in sight, can Christmas really be for me?

If this tradition of Christmas is only for the affluent in America, is it really Christmas?

Traditionally, I love all things Christmasy. The decorating, cooking, music, parties, shopping, wrapping, advent and planning. Those traditions aren’t necessarily wrong or sinful, however they can’t offer fulfillment and peace. The extra things can’t be the cause for rejoicing or the focus of our celebration. This year the excess is noticeable and the gap between fanciful traditions and the birth of the Messiah feel separated by a chasm. Honestly, it feels overwhelming. Things don’t feel “Merry and Bright”. Yet, somehow we paint a picture that the “joy of Christmas” should eclipse all grief and pain. It’s as if when the Christmas tree went up, my sorrow was supposed to wait in the attic. That’s plausible if the joy of Christmas is found in secondary things. If joy is found in giving gifts, candle light services and a few well loved songs, than Christmas is not for the brokenhearted.

If joy is found in giving gifts, candle light services and a few well loved songs, than Christmas is not for the brokenhearted.

Throughout Scripture we find that every story points to the central story of Jesus. In Genesis, following the curse of sin, there is a promise, “he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” [1] Following that moment people were looking forward to the promised Savior. Hundreds of years went by, some filled with triumph and prosperity, but most filled with exile, loss and heartache. The future was bleak. Approximately 700 years before this promised Messiah was born Isaiah offered hope of what was to come. “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.”[2] The chapter goes on to say “The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” [3] Israel then endured four hundred years after hearing from the last prophet until the birth of Christ. In bleak darkness, they waited. The promised Messiah was meant for a broken and hopeless world. Christmas was meant for the weary.

Now here we are in 2020. A year that has been difficult and trying for many, but there is good news. The Messiah has come. Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. It’s truth that should spark such exceptional joy that we have no time for the frivolity of the holiday frenzy. Hear my heart, I’m not preaching against Christmas trees, cookies and twinkly lights. I’m saying that we have no need for these things. They are extra and they offer no hope. I can’t imagine that while the people of Israel waited for the coming Messiah they found much peace in singing about a White Christmas. I don’t think Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world in a dark and dirty stable hoping for a little more peppermint bark. As Joseph watched his wife cry out in pain, I imagine his joy was not found in a pile of presents underneath the perfect Fraser fir.

Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. It’s truth that should spark such exceptional joy that we have no time for the frivolity of the holiday frenzy.

I have been convicted of how much of my previous Christmas happiness and joy was a result of secondary and temporal things. That kind of Christmas is not meant for the weary. This year I am confident that my joy is in Christ alone. My peace and my hope can only be attributed to the atoning and redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. This year has been especially difficult for our family. We have lost much and we long for the day when all things are made new. Let’s not forget that we are all waiting for the second coming of Christ. Some of us are ready, and some of us are not. I can wait well because I know my sin has been forgiven and I have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. I can wait well because my God fulfills his promises.

This Christmas I am weary, but I can also see how much Christmas offers joy. My peace may not look like enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate in a clean home by the fire, but instead like well worn pages of Scripture. My hope doesn’t look like dreaming of future Christmas seasons with more people around my table, but instead looking forward to the feasts to come in heaven with my Savior. My joy doesn’t look like a holly jolly Christmas, but instead tear filled eyes lifted in gratitude to a Messiah who has graciously saved me from my sins and offered me hope while I wait.

This Christmas I am weary. Praise God, Christmas is for the weary.

Though the fig tree does not bud

    and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

    and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

    and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18

[1] Genesis 3:15 [2] Isaiah 9:1 [3] Isaiah 9:2

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