The Christmas season can be tough. For many people, the sights, sounds, and aromas of Christmas can resurrect painful memories of heartache, disappointment, or loss. The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, or the “perfect” Christmas kiss at the end of a favorite Hallmark movie, may cause some hearts to flutter, but will bring tears of pain or guilt or deep sadness to others.
I’m one of those people for whom Christmas brings a mixture of emotions. I have some great memories of Christmases past, especially of the Christmas music concerts of my church and high school and college choirs. Before the “advent” of CDs and digital downloads, I always looked forward to pulling out the Christmas records (remember those?) and playing favorites from Bing and Frank and Dean and Burl. During my years in radio, I loved it when we began playing all Christmas music right after Thanksgiving. When my kids were small, I enjoyed taking them riding to see the lights around town, and still enjoy doing that with the grandkids. Christmas can indeed be filled with joy.
But some of my most painful memories are also of Christmases past. I remember a year when a family crisis stretched from Thanksgiving through Christmas into the new year. While that was over 25 years ago, the memory still haunts me. There is also the memory of a Christmas with a 4-year old and a 1-year old, and the only presents we could afford were the cheapest things available at K-Mart. When my son brought a toy identical to one of those cheap ones (a plastic bowling set) on vacation a couple of years ago for his kids to play with, just the sight of it brought tears to my eyes – 30 years later. Christmas can truly be filled with pain.
The pendulum of emotions swings widely this time of year. What is a person to do if the inner response to all the joyful sounds of Christmas is a painful groan in the soul? I don’t have a formula which will take away the pain, but I do have a suggestion that I think will help all of us work through it. Let’s spend this Christmas season giving focused attention to the life truths that we learn at Christmas, especially in our moments of pain.
You see, Christmas teaches us that the God of the universe – the God who gave us the breath of life – loves us. We may feel that no one really loves us, but the fact is that “. . . God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16 ESV). Because of His great love for us, God the Son took on human flesh in order to take care of our greatest problem and greatest need – our sin. We may feel that no one really loves us, and this season may create feelings of loneliness, but the fact of Christmas is that we are never alone, we are infinitely loved by God, and we celebrate Christmas as proof of that love.
Christmas teaches us that we don’t have to be good enough to earn or merit any blessing from God. In fact, we can’t. Sure, we’ve made some messes in our lives – some of us a complete mess. But what matters to God is that Jesus’ life was perfect, and when we trust Jesus as our Savior, God credits His perfect life to us. “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21 HCSB). We may feel condemned by others, but the fact of Christmas is that, in Christ, we are accepted as God’s children. Christmas celebrates that God is on our side.
Finally, Christmas teaches us that God is never late and never forgets. We read in Scripture that “. . . when the right time came, God sent His Son . . .” (Galatians 4:4 NLT). Think of the long centuries that faithful Jews had looked and hoped for their Messiah to come. God had promised, and God is never late. He is right on time. No matter how we feel, the fact is that God sovereignly controls His world, and whatever comes – or has come – or will come – into our lives comes to accomplish His good purposes for us. The fact of Christmas is that in the fullness of time the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. And we can trust that, at just the right time, God will be right there with us – no matter where we are or what we are feeling. At Christmas, we celebrate God with us! Emmanuel! Merry Christmas!