Originally published Friday, 12 December 2014.
"Mom, it just doesn't feel like Christmas without our Advent Box and Christmas tree." My son said this one evening as I made dinner in the kitchen. The sound of Christmas music played from the small speaker on the counter.
The first couple weeks of Advent we were out of town. Away from home, our traditions, and all that makes things "feel" like Christmas.
Traditions are good. The sights, smells, and tastes that make us think of Christmas are all good. But sadly, we often think those things are Christmas. Too often, the trappings of Christmas become the celebration themselves. As a result, Christmas can sometimes be a disappointment. Our plans and events go array. The beautiful, cozy, holiday scene played out in our minds doesn't match up with our reality. People are unkind to one another. The cookies get burned. The kids don't pay attention to the Advent readings. And all anyone seems to care about are the gifts under the tree, not the Gift of Life born to hang from a tree.
What do we do when it doesn't feel like Christmas? What do we do when the trappings of our celebration steals our joy rather than helps to express it?
The truth about Christmas is that no matter how disastrous our celebration, no matter how we fail in our rejoicing, and no matter how miserable the experience, Jesus still comes. Immanuel is here. He is with us.
And that's just why he came.
He came because our hearts point to everything else but true North. We need major surgery to make our hearts align with our Maker. In coming as babe wrapped in human flesh, Jesus began the greatest transformation in the human condition since the Fall. Only he could live the life we couldn't live. Only he could love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. Only he could obey the Father in face of the devil's lies and temptations. As the perfect Son of God, only he could step in as the spotless Lamb and save us from our sins.
The reality of living in this world is that our celebrations are always tainted. We can never have a perfect holiday. No matter how good the intentions, the remaining sin in our lives will pull and distract us from what's truly important. But even in the midst of that disappointment, there is joy. In this life, joy and disappointment are always co-mingled together. Like two sides of the same coin; we'll always experience them together. That's what life in a fallen world is like.
But's it's also what brings us hope. Just as Mary's heart sang with joy at the birth of Jesus, it also burned with disappointment and sorrow at the words of Simeon, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35).
This Christmas, when disappointment burns your own soul, cling to the hope that Jesus came to bring. Disappointment at Christmastime doesn't have to ruin your Christmas, it can be the impetus that pushes you right into joy. And even though it doesn't "feel" like Christmas, in your heart you can sing with Mary "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47).
Because Immanuel is here and wherever he is, there is Christmas.