I’m going to cut right to the chase here: I had two grandparents die in the past year, and it really sucked. And I’m sad. And I have been dreading Christmas since New Years.
I’ve been dreading going to my mom’s house on Christmas Eve and not having my grandpa there, and I’ve been dreading waking up at home on Christmas Day and not having Mamaw show up shortly thereafter with coffee cake and joy. The truth is, Christmas will never be the same again. It won’t be the same because I miss the way my Grandpa smelled. I miss his laugh and his conversation and his arms wrapping me in love. And I miss the way my Mamaw laughed. I miss her silly way of giving gifts, the far-reaching love she had for everyone she ever knew, and the way she called Christmas-morning mimosas “alcoholic orange juice” with zero hint of judgement. Christmas without them will never NOT leave me missing those things.
And this year it’s just hard. Twice. So, this season of advent has had me so wrapped up in my sadness that I’ve taken my own story out of context of the larger story of advent. And this morning as I sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” the Lord guided my soul back into the truth of his word, where I find rest and peace and expectation.
If you don’t know what Advent is, it’s literally translated as “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” In Christian liturgy, it is the season preceding Christmas – four calendar weeks where we remember the period of waiting for salvation to come, originally in the form of a baby and eventually in the form of his second triumphant coming.
But for me this year, it’s mostly been a lot of waiting around to be sad. This morning I stood in church, singing words I have known since I was a toddler. “Glory to God, glory in the highest, O come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord.” And the truth that I already knew finally resonated with me: Christmas isn’t about me or my sadness or even the grandparents that I am mourning. It’s only about Jesus. And my grief is not an excuse to let it pass by without giving God the fullness of my worship and adoration and praise.
However, choosing to praise God above all else on Christmas does not invalidate my grief. In fact, it creates space for it.
The other day, my friend sent me a quote from a book that she is reading by author John Mark Comer. He was writing about the Psalms of David and said this, “Are you like that? Up and down? High-highs and low-lows? A melancholy wreck? Always swinging the pendulum of joy and despair, faith and doubt, trust and fear? Like David? Do you know what God called David? A man after his own heart. God allowed a flawed, emotional train wreck to lead Israel—his chosen people. But not only that, he took David’s raw, brutally honest lyrics—gushing with fear, anxiety, doubt, depression, and questions about God’s faithfulness—and made them part of the inspired scriptures. God is not shocked by your emotions. No matter how messed up your soul may be, God is right there with you, listening.”
For me this week, those simple words changed everything. God is not shocked by my emotions. Rather, they are given voice and value in the Holy Spirit-inspired scriptures. They are dealt with tenderly and patiently by the Father. My feelings – my sadness and my fear – MATTER to God. And Christmas is such a stunning example of that!
But I think we over-simplify Christmas sometimes. “It’s when we celebrate the birth of Christ.” And, YES! What a thing to celebrate! But it’s not just that Jesus was born that makes Christmas spectacular. It’s that Jesus laid down deity to put on flesh out of an overwhelming love for us. It isn’t just that he was born, it’s that he lived. In the midst of darkness and hopelessness, when we had no power in our sin to seek or desire Him, he dwelt among his people for over three decades as an unassuming carpenter. It wasn’t just that he lived – submissive to human authority and worldly brokenness – it’s that he died the humiliating, excruciating, death of a criminal although he was wholly without blame. And it’s not just that he died, but that he rose and rendered death powerless. And it’s not just that he rose, but that he ascended to his heavenly home to rule and reign on our behalf! And it’s not just that he ascended, but that he will return to make ALL THINGS NEW!
Christmas wasn’t simply the birth of a Savior. It was the culmination of hundreds of years of prophecy that looked forward to this day. It was the day when God, out of love for his children, closed the distance in his relationship with them. He became like us so that we might become like Him.
Jesus knows my grief intimately this season, not just because he is God, but because he came to earth and experienced grief. And so he does not shake his fist at me and say, “Lay aside your sadness and praise me.” No, it’s quite the opposite. Instead, he takes my tear-streaked face in his hands and lifts it to behold a star over Bethlehem. “Bring your sadness and come to me.”
My hope was born in a manger, and it was secured on a cross. And it will be completed by a King returning for his bride.
“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Rev. 1:8)
On this Christmas, my grief finds its freedom in the Eternal God. In the God who did not cut corners in his love for me. In the God who is an anchor for my soul. In the God who is making all things new.