Christmas doesn’t always sparkle. Sometimes it comes in darkness that is so heavy with sorrow it feels like a lie with all its twinkling lights and sugared reality.
Even as I write this I think of those who feel the ache of loss magnified in this season, or those entrenched in depression, others battling addiction, struggling with divorce or estrangement, mourning broken relationships, or steeped in loneliness.
The festivities of Christmas can sometimes feel like salt in our wounds, and our best efforts crumble with messy homes, too much yelling, and anxiety over perfect traditions as we try to cover our sorrow like we’re icing a sad, broken cookie.
We have turned Christmas into some kind of stale perfection: pristine decorations, brightly lit Christmas trees, and adorably smiling Christmas cards; and yet we often find ourselves disillusioned, particularly when we have to take all those things down again and everything feels suddenly gray and lifeless. Life is not made of some perfect holiday feeling, and I don’t think Christmas is either.
The irony is: that broken cookie might be a more accurate embodiment of Christmas than the beautifully iced ones.
Christmas is messy, it exists because the world is dark, broken, and hurting. It is because of our failure that God came as a baby born to die. Christmas is ugly: as a pregnant mother is turned out of any reasonable place to give birth, we see human compassion fail even as God’s mercy is born; as a town of baby boys are murdered by a wicked King’s fearful tyranny, we see the evil of the human heart, even as the remedy himself flees to Egypt.
Christmas arrived in darkness and murder and failure and fear and sorrow, and that is precisely why it is filled with so much hope. Because Christmas arrived. Jesus came. In a town that was held in the grip of a tyrannical, cruel king, to a mother who was completely unknown and too young, announced to a group of outcast shepherds, in a world that was too dark in 400 years of God’s silence, he came. Jesus arrived, just as he said he would, and freedom was born.
Sometimes Christmas feels like a lie, but that’s simply because we’ve turned it into something it’s not. The real thing we’re celebrating is an answer to sorrow and despair, the real thing we’re celebrating is a person, the Light himself.
Last night I sat at our dark kitchen table with my boys, all our house lights were off and I struck a match lighting three of our Advent candles: Promise, Light, and Love, and my 5-year-old gasped and with awe in his small voice he said, “Mom, there is so much light as we get closer to Christmas.” I realized, Christmas isn’t sparkly at all, rather, it’s blinding with the Light of a holy, perfect, loving God breaking into despair and defeating death and sin. That’s something we can celebrate even in our grief and struggle, because that’s exactly why he came.