It seems each year, my anticipation of Christmas and the excitement of the holidays soars around Thanksgiving only to plummet the week before the big day. This year was no different. For weeks it was exciting and fresh and fun and the anticipation was welcome. A breathless hope. And then, all of a sudden, I was emotionally worn out. It happens every year. It happened this year.
It feels like such a failure. It feels like this should be the most joyful time of the year - that every gathering and every gift and every church service should be this explosion of joy. And yes, there are joyful moments. I love watching Reagan and Madison’s reactions to Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, and Christmas programs at church. Its fun. I won’t deny it. I love seeing our families and celebrating with them. I love all the typical Christmas events.
But inside, deep inside, I feel a weight. Amidst all the hustle and bustle and singing and gifting, I am acutely aware of my shortcomings. In the glow of a brightly lit Christmas tree, my shadows seem all the darker. Yes, he was born in a manger. Born to die for sinners like me. For me. The waiting just makes the ache grow stronger. The longing for Christ gets to be a bit too much.
Sunday morning, our Pastor reminded me: “Advent is our whole lives.” We are always waiting. We are always left longing for Christ. But the incompleteness I feel is exactly as it should be. One of my friends reminded me that joy is found in the muck and junk and mire of life. If it can’t be found there, we’ve lost our way.
My attitude is improving as I come to new realizations. I’m beginning to see myself less as a failure and more as a human being – created to love and worship God but burdened by the heaviness and the weight of a sinful world. True pure inescapable all-encompassing joy was never meant for earth in these conditions. But just to taste a small portion of the joy we will one day live in, well, that is the goal. It comes with longing and waiting.
Mary’s waiting to deliver her child must have been intense and deeply painful those last several days. I’ve thought so much and so often of what her birth experience would have been like when she brought God’s son into the world. Her journey to Bethlehem must have been, quite honestly, excruciating. How she must have ached just to see Him. How she must have longed for it to be over. How the wait must have seemed like an eternity.
In some small way, we all suffer with her. We, too, are longing for Him. We are aching for it to be over. We feel like the wait is too long. But He’s coming. At the same time we celebrate the delivery we will celebrate our deliverance.
Sometimes we tend to make Christmas a little too pretty. We turn away from what must have been, to say it lightly, a very difficult situation. A birth steeped in pain, in filth, in confusion, in contradiction – this is what we celebrate. This is when God made the way. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t logical or sensible. By today’s standards, it was ugly and messy. Just like us. Just like us.
There is healing in the brokenness.
There is peace in the pain.
There is glory in the waiting.
There is beauty in the longing.
This is the joy of Christmas.