When I was a kid, Christmas was the most predictable time of the year. I’ve spent my entire life here in the Dallas area. Both sets of my grandparents live within a mile of each other. My parents still live in the house we moved into when I was in elementary school. As a kid, my extended family lived in the far-off land of Rockwall (east Dallas).
With everyone nearby, we’ve always been a tight-knit family. We were saved the hassle of traveling to another city for Christmas. My parents never had to sacrifice time with one side of the family for the other.
Every Christmas Eve, we would open presents from the extended family, hear my great-grandmother’s brother-in-law recite Luke 2, and head home in time for
Santa to come down the chimney my Dad to curse the day he was born while putting together our toys.
But this last decade has been one of transition. My brother and I have both gotten married and had children. My grandfather and great grandparents all passed away. Every year, we’re searching for that elusive balance between time with my family and the in-laws. With all of the transitions, Christmas simply doesn’t feel the same anymore.
To be honest, I’ve truly dreaded Christmas this year. Something about getting hit in the head by a crate of decorations coming down the attic latter just isn’t appealing. The gift-buying process is exhausting and we go to enough parties in December to last a lifetime. Despite this, we’re still expected to enjoy every last moment of the season.
There’s tremendous pressure to be joyful over Christmas, yet many people truly dread it. Loved ones die, money gets tight, and family conflict erodes our relationships. Those who feel crushed under the weight of these pressures often feel out of place in December. Some even feel like bad Christians for not feeling joy when gazing upon the manger scene. But that dread is exactly why Christ came.
THE TRUE SEASON: ADVENT
Believe it or not, December on the church calendar is not the season of Christmas, but Advent. It’s marked by hopeful anticipation rather than celebration. The Advent attitude begins with the assumption that this is a broken world full of sorrow and pain. It’s a chance to put ourselves in the same frame of mind the Israelites had while living under Roman occupation before Jesus’ birth.
By remembering the darkness Jesus was born into, we gain a greater appreciation for our spiritual emptiness without him. It also reminds us to eagerly anticipate his second coming as well. This time of somber reflection ahead of Christmas sets the stage for the celebration that comes afterward. Click & Tweet!
Unfortunately, we often omit Advent from our Christmas traditions. We celebrate the joy of Christ coming into our world but ignore the darkness that precluded him. By the time Jesus arrived, world empires had oppressed Israel for centuries. The census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was a ploy to demand taxes from all citizens. It was a shakedown.
Rumors of insurrection were all around and the government was well aware. Public crucifixions were increasingly common and the people faced oppression at every corner. Mary and Joseph were victims of their time, so were the shepherds keeping watch over the flocks that night and the people filling Bethlehem’s inn.
You’ll notice this dark theme in our Christmas carols too. They’re sung in minor keys. Both musically and lyrically, they leave you with a feeling of angst and waiting. They combine a sense of deep longing and anticipation, given way to sudden celebration. The Christmas season is naturally borne from the basic idea that all is not well. Click & Tweet!
OUR PRESENT LONGING
We can’t fully celebrate the coming of Christ without first recognizing our own need for him. It should naturally make us yearn for his second coming. We often don’t stop to contemplate the darkness around us because we’re often insulated from it. We don’t see or may not even care to see it.
We try so hard to engineer happy memories in December, often forgetting that we are living in the darkest month of the year. But ask anyone suffering through depression, the loss of a loved one, poverty, or addiction and they’ll immediately identify with the idea of Advent and the longing to be made new again.
The human race remains enslaved to sin and death. Paul describes us as “dead in our trespassess.” But God did more than speak through prophets or split bodies of water in half. That wasn’t enough. He loved us too much to leave us there. So he personally invaded the darkness. C.S. Lewis describes it better than anyone else.
One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe – a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin… Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
Jesus broke through the darkness to set us free. So if you’re experiencing regret, sorrow, addiction, or pain in your life, Christmas happened exactly for you. We celebrate the day he invaded this world as an innocent child in a countryside barn. The Jesus we worship wasn’t insulated from pain or darkness while he was here. He dove right into it. The baby in that nativity scene would grow up and feel abandonment, loss, rejections, and even death just as you do. But he didn’t come to merely experience it. He came to conquer it.
If you find yourself dreading Christmas this year, know that the darkness you feel in your heart is the exact same darkness every character in Luke 2 felt. Just imagine their joy when they realized the true King had just landed in their own backyard, that he counted them worthy of bearing witness to his invasion. Consider that moment when they finally realized all is well.
God is here. Let your weary soul rejoice.