I have always loved Christmas. For me, as a child, it was a magical time. Lights, presents, caroling, friends, shows, music, family… all of it, just made me feel warm and fuzzy. As I grew up, I continued to love the warm and fuzzy parts of the season and tried to pass them along to my own children.
Magical became miracle, when I understood the true meaning of Christmas…Emanuel, God with us. All the cares of the world wrapped in swaddling clothes. A baby God. It is mind blowing to me still. Such an opposite way of what would be expected. I think that is why I love him so. The unexpected ways God shows up are like surprises, hidden until the time of the revealing. Like gifts all year long.
But this year is a different kind of Christmas for me. I am going through the motions, but the warm and fuzzy is fleeting. I snatch a moment or two, but mostly I feel off balance. It is as if someone pulled the rug out from under me. Of course, the cycle of life keeps on turning even if I want it to stop so I can catch my breath. The warm and fuzzy I am craving, is hidden away in boxes and storage units, out of reach.
This year, I am more familiar with the man of sorrows than the baby in the manger. The one acquainted with grief has my attention. It is no less a miracle, maybe even more so to relate to the one who carries the burden of the world on his shoulders. I wonder if his grief caused him to need more sleep? Or to stay awake all night exhausted from trying? Or if he felt like he was walking through water instead of on top of it? If everything took more effort?
As I wander through the days, I feel out of place. I know these days…holy days which celebrate light and love, and yet I cannot find my place in them. I am the walking weary. I am looking up and grasping for hope, because I know it hangs close this time of year. I can almost reach out and touch it. Almost. Songs drip its essence into the atmosphere around me. Decorations try to show me darkness is overcome by light, and not just any light…the light of the world. Yet, the sacred holy light I cherish each year, seems dim.
Christmas feels like work. All the things I love about the season, and usually cannot wait for, are overwhelming to me now. I put one foot in front of the other because I can, but it is not the same. It is hard. Grief waits for me around every corner, to remind me of the change that is coming. It is upon me. And though I know it is coming, I long to put it off a bit longer. I want to travel back in time, to where the warm and fuzzies live. But time travel isn’t possible, and so I go forward and look to the man of sorrows for my path.
I watch him. He knew the future and walked into it anyway. He knew pain and embraced hardship. Suffering was the cup he drank from. And for what? The joy he knew was coming. For the restoration of relationship. The healing of hearts, the setting captives free.
My grief is made easier because he walked the path of pain first. Only one God makes himself into the King of sorrows. He didn’t avoid pain as I would have if I was God. No, he walked right into it and because of that, the heaviness that follows me this year isn’t mine to carry. It is his. What a gift.
I know I am not the only one walking the tight rope between aging parents and adult children. I am not the only one with financial pressures, a tired body, and a heavy heart. I am not the only unsteady one who feels off balance. Many of you have lost loved ones this year. Others have gotten bad news from doctors. Some are without a job, or have a sick child. For some, relationships are broken beyond repair. Life is full of sorrow. Christmas might not be very merry this year, but the Light of the World is still present. The good news is you are not alone. We are together, and this little baby God who grew into a King of sorrows is with us all. Emanuel…God with us.