Christmas is hard.
I like parts of it, I am trying to like the newness and wonder and gift-giving and such, especially when I am around our 16-year-old French exchange student, who believes it is magical.
But as a person and a pastor, I see how much the hurt of life gets dragged under a heavy magnifying glass this time of year.
Lonely? Nothing like lots of isolation during the "happiest season of all."
Recent loss of a loved one? It might feel like Christmas will never become a container that fills with joy again.
Financial struggles or depression or physical pain or confusion or global terrorism? Adoption loss and church change and uncertainty and loss of faith? (This really is going somewhere.)
Do you have any idea why this post went viral? It is because of little gems like this, little pearls of understanding and TRUTH (as opposed to whitewashed sentimentalism):
"It was the year of hard things. Temper tantrums, anxiety disorders, strange fevers, panic attacks, shut-down souls."
When I heard that on top of all sorts of trauma and life changes, a neighbor drove a car into their daughter's bedroom, I cringed. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
The first Sunday of advent, I preached this sermon. It was about God's love revealed at Advent, about how Jesus is bringing about justice. I was grateful to preach it, because I needed to believe it. It was a Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, kind of moment.
I felt keenly the loss of the Paris attacks and other attacks this year worldwide, specifically in Kenya at a Christian college, in the Middle East in general, and all of the fear that is living now in our backyards. Even the death of teenagers this year in our smallish town. Racism. Domestic violence. Lack of reconciliation around the world and in the church, specifically.
I preached the sermon though I didn't entirely feel it. And now a few weeks later, the feelings are beginning to poke up, my heart is reviving with what I believe is hope.
For unto us is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord . . .
It isn't the bigger things I see this year that convince me it is reasonable to hope in the justice of King Jesus, in his love revealed. It is a million small things. I was asked recently if I believe in the immortality of the soul.
I said, No, thank you. Not if it means there is more of this same brokenness. More death and famine and violence. But, on the other hand, because I believe Jesus is making all things new, that he did live, and die, and resurrect from the dead, I do believe in the immortality of the soul. I believe good is and will triumph over evil, definitively. That Jesus will bring shalom and wholeness to all who seek him.
I believe in remarkable tenacity and bounceback when it comes to recovering hope in hard times, specifically for those who have trusted in Jesus, the carpenter-turned-King. And that every small act of love and truth and mercy done in his name is building the Kingdom now. The Kingdom really is upon us, is the bottom line.
If only we have eyes to see.
I am experiencing that bounceback now. Today, someone told me I am a person who sees the good in things, who is hopeful about life. Small wonder, I thought, after reviewing the last many year's Christmas newsletters and finding we haven't been full of what I would describe as happiness since 2010.
What is most stunning about this particular year is that my hope pushes me to shift gears faster than I have in the past. A baby due August 13 that never became ours, an unexpected French exchange student who showed up on August 16, right on schedule, somehow precisely on time.
I bear witness to the hope that when dreams don't come true, last-chance dreams, even, there will be other dreams. New signs of the Kingdom breaking through. I love to celebrate them anywhere they pop up: as others celebrate victory, as sheer grace enters a horrible tragedy, as Jesus makes me more resilient in my spirit and less likely to take my losses and the actions and failures of others personally.
The other day in a church staff meeting we were praying to our heavenly Father, asking for his intervention on behalf of those who are hurting among us. And right in the middle of the prayer, I said, "Father, I say "yes-and-amen" to what you did in our service on Sunday!" A story of brokenness-turned-into-redemption was told, of finding that home and the church finally turned out to be the same place in our little gathering, of a lost one becoming joyously FOUND.
When I looked around the auditorium that day, the hurting showed signs of hope. Though all was not perfect, I could say with saint Julian of Norwich:
"All is well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."
Oh, that each one could say the same this Christmas. But until each one can . . .
I wish peace and healing to you,
I wish generous glimpses of grace that shock you awake amidst the messiness of life,
and I wish that you might experience the love of Christ through tangible, imperfect people who bear witness—however improbably—to hope and joy.
You are loved, more than you can ever imagine, by the One who created this world. The God-man who stooped down low in a manger. Who hung in pain and shame on a cross to give us a way to cleanse our sins and be reconciled to God and to each other. He defied all odds and showed us hope lives by exiting the tomb, of showing us how life comes after death in his Kingdom.
This is the one who shows us that his love for the broken truly cannot be measured, the one who stoops down exactly to our level, wherever we find ourselves.
And that is my brutally honest truth about Christmas.
Your turn: What feelings do Advent and Christmas stir in you this year?
On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church