Christmas from the Outside

Christmas celebrations, at least in America, are glazed with fuzzy feelings. Lights deck out dark windows, sugary drinks abound at Starbucks, songs about cherubs and snuggling and pumpkin pie flood the radio. Even most Christian carols are exclusively about Joy to the World and Peace on Earth at this time of year, sweeping the rest under the rug ‘til January. But that glitzy window display of sentimentalism divides people. Either you’re rockin’ around the Christmas tree, or you’re fogging the glass from the outside, wondering why you can’t hear the music.
Christmas has a way of dredging up life’s most intense sorrows as well as its joys. Landing at the end of the calendar year, it offers opportunities for reflection. Achievements, gains, successes, new opportunities become cause for celebration. But job loss, unwanted moves, illness, addiction, regret, missed opportunities—how do you celebrate those?
As a time when families traditionally gather together, Christmas can also exacerbate the awareness when they’re not. The sentimentalism of the season doesn’t have room for divorce, miscarriage, divisive arguments, breakups, estrangement, or death—leaving those with these relational wounds to carry them around like dirty little secrets under our Christmas sweaters. I lost someone at Christmas when I was very young, and to this day, songs about cozy sleigh rides, Daddy chopping firewood, or even Mary and Joseph cooing over baby Jesus can leave me rubbing my hands on the cold side of the window. At a time of year when mommies traditionally take their little girls to The Nutcracker and couples kiss under the mistletoe, that secret pain can feel illicit at the “most wonderful time of the year.” You wonder if you’re a Scrooge for not feeling the “Christmas spirit”—especially when you know you’re supposed to be celebrating the Lord Jesus Christ’s birth into the world. 
The birth of Christ, though, wasn’t as sugary as the wooden nativity scenes make it out to be—not if you look at it from God the Father’s perspective, anyway. Maybe it isn’t orthodox, but I imagine that He felt very conflicted on that first Christmas. I know He overflowed with joy because He stood to regain relationship with a world full of His beloved children. But—but—at the same time, as the heav’nly hosts sang Alleluia and a teenage girl lovingly cradled her new baby, I think the Father pressed His nose to the glass and wept.
Because that baby, separated from Him by a veil of flesh, was His son, His only son.
And he was going to die.
Perhaps a true celebration of Christmas has room for mixed feelings. It’s a time for rejoicing; for singing Christ the Savior is born and investing in our relationships, whatever they may be. But it’s a holiday of loss, too; a commemoration of the grief that goes hand-in-hand with joy. Christmas is more than tinsel and gift cards, but it’s also more than singing shepherds and a haloed Baby. Because even as we celebrate advent, incarnation, and nativity, we are remembering one Father’s suffering, sacrifice, and separation from his son—something many of us understand very personally at this time of year. With joy in our hearts and tears in our eyes, we celebrate that God, who gave up all He had to welcome us inside—even those of us who have been fogging the glass a long time.
Hallelujah. What a Savior. 

Though the Earth Should Change

Hospitals shake my trust.

I wasn’t planning on my grandmother, age 89, going to the emergency room on Thanksgiving evening.

I wasn’t planning on her making a return visit that Monday in the wee hours of the morning. Or on her being admitted to the hospital. Or on her remaining on the cardiac floor for a week. She’s still there. Some days she’s better, others worse. My mom, who has been driving back and forth every day to be with her, never knows what she’s going to find when she gets there, or what medical developments the next day will bring.

But do we ever really know what tomorrow holds?

For the last few months, I’ve been working on getting my career off the ground. I’ve had a plan, set goals, and worked hard. This is good. But, as you’ll notice if you’ve been reading my posts, I have a chronic trust problem. Sometimes my manic planning interrupts me relying on the One who knows my future and already has a plan for it. When I think I’ve got tomorrow under control, I forget that tomorrow belongs to Him. Like the person in James 4:

You who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.

Ain’t that the truth.

“Normal” life gives me the illusion of control, predictability, security. But when hospital entered the equation early this week, I was reminded of just how hollow that illusion rings. It’s a hologram, a mirage. Even on “routine” days when the alarm rings on time and there’s no traffic on the highway, we never know what will happen. Our PDAs and planners lie to us. We make our plans, but sometimes things happen that blow those plans completely out of the water. And sometimes it’s in that still, scared place when all the plans are gone that I see God without distraction. Sometimes my “normal” has to be shattered for me to remember that God is God, and to pay attention to what really matters: Him. Just Himself.

In the midst of worry and wondering what will happen next, He is a strong and safe refuge. These words from Psalm 46 bring me peace in a time of storm.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea…

“Cease striving, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.

Right now I know less about tomorrow than ever. I’m praying earnestly for my grandma (and entreat your prayers as well). But strangely, when the illusion of “normal” is gone, something better is left. God. He is a secure fortress worthy of my trust; a very present help in trouble.