My Childhood Christmases were pretty idyllic. So advent was about eagerly opening the numbered doors on chocolate calendars and greedily devouring the sweet-waxy treats inside (which I’ve since realized are gross). I welcomed Jesus wearing a cute lamb costume in the church play, anticipating the candy cane and Christmas orange I would get afterward. My eyes glittered as I gazed EXCITEDLY at the enchanting display of lights on our street as we drove home like happy little sardines packed 3-to-a-row in our station wagon. Looking back, I see how Jesus was in all that goodness. How he had come into my midst as a child so plainly and beautifully. Everything cohered so well: A story of salvation being met with celebration and joy and love and fullness. And it was true. It still is true. It’s the experience I want for my children. The thing was, though, that at the time I had no clue how to reconcile an experience like mine with the very-different time that Christmas is to so many others.
It’s taken a long time to reach some level of acceptance and peace about the coexistence of light and dark, good and bad. As a little kid I had clear categories for things, but even at a young age I experienced that uncomfortable feeling you get when your categories don’t properly contain or explain all of reality.
I remember the time my parents brought us all to the church to serve Christmas dinner to the poor, and I remember realizing that some people were sad and lonely. I think my brain kind of exploded as I realized that Christmas could actually be pretty horrible for some people; that Christmas could be a worse time than not-Christmas for some folks. This was one of those experiences that didn’t fit well into my categories for how life should look and why it should look that way. Scripture acknowledges this difficulty, this darkness…:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)
It brings tears to my eyes. Guys, it can be SO dark out sometimes. Even with the external trappings of privilege, there’s this common thread, this deep need. A longing for the advent – the arrival – of joy, hope, peace, and love. For these to come in our immediate reality, whatever it may be, and somehow transform it, transform us.
This Christmas, my prayer is that we would have a faith that is big enough to welcome Christ into every part of our reality – even, and probably especially, the difficult parts.