Many of us love the Christmas season (at least we do in a normal—not 2020—year). Yes, it’s commercialized and stressful, but there are many things to enjoy: delicious desserts, classic movies and songs, gatherings with family and friends, gift exchanges, festive décor, old traditions and new memories, and fun local activities. I love Christmas time, so despite some cautions below, I’m more like Buddy the Elf than the Grinch.
But through disappointment during the holidays, I’ve also had to remind myself that “Christmas cheer” is great as a side-dish but it can’t be the main course that fills us up.
Despite the joys making the season bright, can we be honest and admit sorrows and trials can make the season dim? Some years your Christmas might be memorable while others it’s forgettable.
Have you ever felt like Charlie Brown did in A Charlie Brown Christmas? Everyone else seems caught up in the festivities while it rings hollow to you. If that’s you, if Christmas doesn’t deliver on its promise to fill December with magic, it’s okay. In fact, it might present you with an opportunity to ask again, like Charlie Brown: “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?”
The good news is Christmas isn’t just for those enjoying the fun and festivities of the season. Christmas can be even more beautiful to the broken. It might feel like a loss if the magic fades, but it can give Jesus a chance to shine.
In this difficult year and holiday season where we’ve ached with so many of the Christmas hymns, “mourning in lonely exile here,” as Christmas cheer has often run out and I’ve spent more time meditating on who Jesus is and what I have in him, I’ve found a joy in Jesus that he alone can offer. The more I’ve set my heart on him, the more it’s found him to be the living water my thirsty heart longs for. He never disappoints, fades, needs returned, or is put back in the box with the new year. Don’t let a disappointing Christmas or 2020 rob you of joy this year; let it remind you where that joy comes from. Jesus never disappoints.
Christ is Beautiful to the Broken
One problem is we try to satisfy our longings with the magic of the Christmas season rather than the meaning behind the Christmas story.
We are lonely so we hope parties and gatherings will fix it; but they can’t. The year has felt like a disappointment—maybe especially this year—so we put our hopes into the holidays, but those hopes can melt away faster than the snow. Christmas is a blessing, but it’s not a savior. This can sometimes be why this season feels disappointing when the reality of what it gives doesn’t meet our expectations.
But we shouldn’t feel guilty when we the movies, lights, and tinsel aren’t enough. It’s okay if the festivities and fun that provide a spark of joy one year fall flat the next. Our happiness isn’t, or shouldn’t be, in all the peripheral elements of Christmas. Our hope and happiness should be set on what is central: the grace of a glorious God born in humble flesh to redeem us back to himself.
We know all too well that temptations, trials, pains, and sorrows aren’t postponed during December. Our struggles with loneliness, anxiety, disappointment, jealousy, and depression not only don’t go away during the holidays, they sometimes increase. Even though I want this season to be special, I get frustrated and snap back at my family just like in other months. Sin and error are still pining (languishing), both in the broken world around me and the fallen flesh inside of me.
We long for hope and joy, but we won’t find it in candy canes, sparking lights, shiny ornaments, or well-wrapped packages. But we can find it in a humble manger, a blood-stained cross, an empty tomb, and a heavenly throne. All the hope, peace, joy, and love our hearts seek to find in a hundred places can be found this Christmas, but they’re found in the Savior not the season.
When roasted chestnuts or rocking around the Christmas tree isn’t sufficient, set your heart on the good tidings of “comfort and joy” or the “thrill of hope” through God coming to be with us so we could be with him.
Christmas for the Crushed
Christmas comforts us with the true story of a loving God humbling himself, coming to us in that lowly manger and living a flesh-and-blood human life in order to give us new life. He is born of a Virgin to “give us second birth” by the Spirit. The sinless Son of God enters our humanity and our earthly realities so he can redeem sinful sons and daughters the Father wants back.
Through the perfect, imperishable gift of Jesus, we can find hope in our darkness, healing in our brokenness, life in our emptiness, joy in our weariness, and salvation in our sinfulness. Those experiencing pain, loss, and disappointment, are reminded that Jesus is our Immanuel. God is with us. Being weak, sorrowful, or crushed doesn’t disqualify you from having a good Christmas, it sets you up to receive the grace of a Redeemer who draws near to the humble and broken.
Those lacking peace need a Prince of Peace.
The weak need God to be the Mighty One.
The confused, fearful, and anxious need a Counselor.
The lost and lonely need an ever-present Immanuel.
As the end of the day, when I’m worn out and weary, I can find distractions in a Christmas movie or I can find peace in the God I cast my cares on. I can find comfort in knowing Jesus also felt weariness and emptiness, and so he is full of understanding, compassion, and empathy. Every discovery of my weakness is then a chance to rediscover how Christ’s fullness and grace offers exactly what I need.
Why Good Christmas Songs Matter
One way we can be reminded of this is by listening to and singing good Christmas songs. Several of my favorite hymns convey the sadness, pain, and weariness of our world that Jesus enters into to give light, hope, and healing. The tone and lyrics are honest about the ache we feel and how Christ entered that darkness as the light. (Watch Songs of Hope: A TGC Advent Concert for encouragement through Christ-centered songs, readings, and poetry.)
If you are perfectly happy in the holidays, and if the magic of the season truly satisfies your soul, then none of this will make sense. In fact, Jesus will seem somewhat unnecessary and a bit of a bore alongside all the other fun things of Christmas. But, if you’re still a sinner needing grace, if you’re still weak and weary but long for strength, and if you still feel sorrows and encounter struggles like I do, then these songs might speak to you. Here are three examples.
The song echoes with honest desperation as it moves from weariness to hope. It speaks to a world long covered by the sin and darkness, looking for a new and glorious morning to dawn. It’s only the coming of Jesus to be our King (verse 2), to break our chains (verse 3), to be our friend in trials (verse 2), and to be a faithful high priest who knows our need (verse 2) that causes a thrill of hope and rejoicing.
Nearly every line of this Christmas hymn speaks to God’s coming to us in misery, sorrow, or chains. As the songwriter considers our circumstances there’s not much to celebrate. But Jesus changes everything and he gives cause to rejoice. Notice the contrast between life apart from Jesus and life with Jesus.
“O come, O come, Emmanuel; And ransom captive Israel; That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”
“O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free, Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory o’er the grave.”
“O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer, Our spirits by Thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
“O come, Thou Key of David, come; And open wide our heavenly home, Make safe the way that leads on high; And close the path to misery”
This Christmas carol reminds us that Jesus tasted our sorrow as a fellow-sufferer, but Jesus also brings gladness to us as our deliverer.
“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.”
Who doesn’t long for strength and consolation, for forgiveness from sin and freedom from fear, and for hope and joy? These songs direct our gaze to Jesus, the only one who can deliver on all his promises this holiday season.
Meaning > Magic
For all the broken this Christmas, it’s in that brokenness we might again have eyes to see the beauty of Jesus. He is a friend of sinners. He offers to carry our burdens and give strength where we are weak and weary. He gives grace for all our failures, mess, and heartache. If the magic of Christmas has run out, consider the meaning of Christmas this year.