I'm fresh off a funeral and hospital visit that both stung a little more than usual. I'm not exactly sure why. Because I've spent enough time around end-of-life scenarios and difficult moments, I'm not typically shaken by them. But the raw realities of this weekend have done something different in me. Maybe it's due to the timing of these events. We're at the precipice of Christmas Day, which our annual Advent preparation reminds us is a longing for hope, peace, joy and love. And if I can be honest with you, longing is probably a good word for me.
I read lots of articles and posts about the "feelings" that should accompany Christmas. And I can't begin to count the number of times I've listened to others confide in me that "it just doesn't feel like Christmas this year." I guess I've never quite understood what Christmas is supposed to "feel" like. This isn't the first year I've "felt" the way I do, but every Christmas is different. I've had blissfully wonderful Christmas seasons, "Bah humbug" Christmas seasons, and Christmas seasons that are somewhere in between. I've experienced Christmases as a young boy, eagerly straining my ears to hear hopeful sounds on the rooftop. Those were fun times! I've also experienced one particularly painful Christmas when I looked around the room and processed an empty chair. That one didn't feel good at all. But it was still Christmas.
When I read the Christmas story, I see a lot of feelings I don't expect to see. Luke says the shepherds were terrified. How's that for a Christmas feeling? I don't ever recall longing for a terrified approach to Christmas. Or what about Mary? She was perplexed. Or Joseph? He must've felt like a champion when he was told, "There's no room for you." The Magi got their audience with the Christ child, then had to find another way home. And Herod? Well, his Christmas "feeling" was anger. Intense anger. Because Jesus messes with our lives, challenges our status quo and threatens to make everything different. So, again, I'm not quite sure how Christmas is supposed to feel. But I do know what Christmas proclaims.
Christmas proclaims the surprising and profound love of God. Out of love, God chose to send the world a Savior. Which is truly absurd when you think about it. Have you seen the world lately? Much of it is hard to love. Just turn on the evening news or read the headlines of your favorite media platform and you'll see. Hatred. Injustice. Evil. Racism. Abuse. It's rampant; it's everywhere. Just like it's always been. And yet, for God so loved the world.
I'm part of that world God loves. And so are you. My life is far from perfect, and I'm guessing your life has some missing pieces as well. But you and I are not unloved. And we are not alone. This Savior goes by another name- Emmanuel. Or Immanuel, if you prefer. Into the realities of this world enters one who is "God with us," which is a stunning development that changes everything. Now we have a friend to enter the darkness with us. Whether it's suffering or fear, hopelessness or despair, failure or even death, there is One who goes with us, stays with us, perseveres with us and offers to us a grace that is sufficient. And I need that. Every day.
If you were to write a book detailing my Christmas celebrations, each chapter would tell a different story. I've tried to manufacture certain Christmas "feelings," but that doesn't work for me. I've tried to reawaken old family traditions, but they're just not the same. I've tried to buy the perfect gift, but the ecstasy of the moment wears off after a day or two. I've tried to stay home, I've tried to travel, I've tried to do nothing and do everything...and every year there's a different feeling. That's because Christmas isn't a "feeling." It's a proclamation of love. And regardless of how I feel, or how my life changes, or what I'm experience professionally or personally, Christmas itself never changes. It's still the old, old story that never grows old: For God so loved the world. Praying you know the surprising and profound love of God this Christmas, no matter how you feel. Merry Christmas!