Woops...Did I say hardest? I meant wonderful. But, actually, let's just be real here.
Sure, we all sing that it's the most wonderful time of the year, but many of us feel like it's also the hardest time of the year.
Now, like most of you, I love Christmas. I love Christmas. Many of our best family moments revolve around the choosing and decorating of the Christmas tree, baking cookies, looking at Christmas lights, drinking hot cocoa, reading the Christmas stories, singing carols, giving gifts to our kiddos, hanging the stockings...we love Christmas at our house. My heart about explodes when I read the Christmas gospel accounts from Luke and Matthew in the New Testament. It's just so awesome.
I just read them actually before I begin typing this blog, and I was struck again by the pure joy that is Christmas. Listen: "And behold, the star that they [the wise men] had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him."
Did you catch it? These men who'd been traveling for who knows how long, saw the star, and they were filled with exceedingly great joy. And when they found baby Jesus, they fell down and worshiped him.
WOW. It honestly takes my breath away. I love Christmas.
I love that Jesus, Immanuel, came into this broken world, to be with us and save us from our brokenness. And because of that, our response ought to be awe, joy, and worship.
But that's the whole point isn't it? We're broken. That's why Immanuel is Immanuel. The reason God chose to come and dwell with us in the first place is because of our brokenness.
And is there any other time of year when our brokenness is more obvious? I don't really think so.
Is there any other time of year at which both our financial stress and our deepest griefs intensify so much at the same time? I doubt it.
The other day I was having what I think were anxiety attacks because in the last few weeks we've encountered financial surprises that have set us back over $1,500. The financial surprises mixed with my growing Christmas-time grief of missing my Mom and the schedule stress of this time of year, and my day ended up being a flow of tears and anxiety.
Now, by the end of that day, all was better. The financial stuff is working itself out, I turned off the Christmas music for the day that was making me miss my mom, and crawled to bed at 9:00.
Our struggles in our family are minor, and I had been overreacting. (That's part of what makes grief such a freight-train. It overreacts and is totally irrational. Mix it with monthly cycle emotions and I was a WRECK I tell you).
But then yesterday, a mom stopped me in a local store to ask about my son's glasses. Our son, after breaking two normal pairs of glasses, has the unbreakable kind made out of bendy plastic with neoprene lenses. They are fantastic, truly unbreakable, and expensive.
Judging from outward appearance (which obviously we're not supposed to do, but actually don't we all?), the price tag for these glasses would be a heavy burden for this mom. She explained that her son is three years old, and she had just ordered similar glasses for him, hoping they really were unbreakable. I assured her they really were (as my son was nose diving into the "car-cart" from the dashboard). She was relieved, and explained she had just replaced her sons ear tubes after he ripped the first set.
As she walked away, I was struck by my own frivolous worries compared to her genuine worries. What was Christmas going to be like for her this year? She just replaced her son's ear tubes and ordered unbreakable glasses for him. All a week before Christmas, which sets us all back financially more than it probably should.
Was her joy at our coming Immanuel being covered up by financial strain, as well as medical concerns for her son?
And what about you?
Is your grief for a lost loved one ripping your heart out every time you hear that person's favorite Christmas song?
My mom's favorite was "Little Drummer Boy," and in particular Neil Diamond's version. It came on Pandora the other day. I made it half way through before I had to skip the song.
One of my very favorites is Whitney Houston's "Do You Hear What I Hear?" And now every time I hear it I cry, imagining my Mom hearing it live with Whitney and the angels.
Ornaments my Mom bought for my kids are covering my tree. Her Christmas dishes are on our table every night. In fact, two of the Christmas bowls are sitting right beside me now with soggy cereal waiting for me to dump it out. Her Christmas quilted wall hangings greet me at my front door and her Christmas quilted table runner is on my table.
She's everywhere in my house at Christmas. And I love it. But it hurts too. It will hurt even more in January when I have to pack it all away.
What about you?
Have you had financial surprises that set you back at Christmas time? Were you clipping merrily along with your shopping and then got slammed in the face with setbacks that turned the shopping to be less joyful and more stressful?
What about you?
Are you swarming in anxiety and worry about the health of a loved one? Are you wondering about this Immanuel...and how if God is really "with us" then why is your loved one suffering so?
Well friend, if any of this is you, then I want to proclaim the hope of Christmas to you. Because as wonderful as this time of year is, it is indeed also downright hard and we need to just be real about that.
And our Immanuel knows that. Our God with us knows the pain and the brokenness of our lives. That's why he came. That's why he came to dwell among us friends. Because the grief and the strain and the sickness and the brokenness is too much for us and we cannot save ourselves from it.
So this Immanuel who was born in a manger came to rescue us, to save us, and to dwell with us in the midst of the pain on this earth. And this Immanuel assures us that He has indeed overcome our brokenness:
"In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Yes...Our Immanuel has overcome every struggle and tribulation we face. And his light outshines our darkness: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5)
And this is WHY the wise men from the east were filled with exceedingly great joy, friends. Because they knew that this world was filled with brokenness and pain and struggle, and God's Son has come not only to dwell with us in it, but ultimately to conquer death and save us from it.
And one last thought...this morning I was struck by how since the very first Christmas, our enemy Satan has been intent on stealing Christmas joy. Right away, in Matthew 2, we see Herod wanting to kill and destroy this baby Jesus. So the wise men go home another direction to avoid Herod, Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt to save their baby's life, and already, Christmas joy is being hindered by grief and stress.
So let's be real friends, and acknowledge that this same enemy is still trying to steal your and my Christmas joy. Not through evil kings like Herod, but through toy advertisements that we can't afford and medical diagnoses and grief that comes like a freight train and unexpected financial setbacks....Our enemy is working overtime to steal our joy this Christmas because he knows that this season ought to be filled with "exceedingly great joy" and worship of the one true King.
But friends, this is why Jesus came. This is why Immanuel is Immanuel. He is with you, friends. In whatever hurts you experience this season, Jesus, your very real and present Immanuel, is with you.
He came to save you, and He loves you.
And that's why this most hardest time of the year really is the most wonderful time of the year.
Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel.