I don’t mean to come off like a Debbie Downer, but the Christmas season has been somewhat difficult for me for the last couple of years. Not in an overwhelming sense, it has been more like a wet fog and slush in contrast to fresh snow under a blue sky. I’ve struggled to discern the root of my difficulty because it has been even more of a struggle in recent years than it was right after my wife Kim passed away.
I began to comprehend the problem after reading an article by a well-known national journalist and a two sentence Facebook post by an old friend. Their observations mirrored my own, albeit from very different life situations. I won’t speak for them, instead I will explain my own situation and the solution that I have been driven to implement.
Faltering Family Traditions
Despite my faith and my vocation, I’ve realized that most of the collective Christmas memory that I carry has been wrapped up in my family and in the traditions that evolved in our home. Many of these were suggested or initiated by Kim. As the wife and mother, she was (as I suspect is the case for many families) the Guardian of the Traditions. She put the decorations in the same spot, played the same CD’s at certain times, made sure we did the pajama-clad drive to look at Christmas lights, and reminded me to read Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas to the family during the weeks leading up to Christmas, as well as numerous other small tokens of her love and care for our family.
As much as we have tried to do many of these things, the combination of limited time and energy, growing and spread out children, and simple emotional inertia, have made some of these things fall by the wayside. All this has conspired to make the Christmas season more and more difficult. As a pastor, this is almost embarrassing to admit, but it is true. However, God has used this situation to do a very good thing.
He has brought me back to Jesus.
Now, don’t misunderstand that statement. I never abandoned my faith, my intellectual and spiritual commitment was always there. However, I had (unconsciously) let other good and honorable things subtly move Jesus away from the emotional center of my Christmas observance. When those things became difficult, painful, impractical, or impossible to continue, I found my Christmas joy suffering. It brought me to the difficult truth that I had let things that could only be temporary define too much of my Christmas celebration. When time, death, or circumstances, took their inevitable toll, Christmas became an occasion for melancholy instead of festivity and rejoicing.
Rediscovering Christmas Joy
I am endeavoring to rekindle my Christmas joy, not by living exclusively in the realm of my own sentimentality, but by dwelling primarily in the reality of the Incarnation. The salvation wrought by the Messiah, born in Bethlehem so long ago, does not fade. Like the God who granted it, this salvation is immutable and eternal. The coming of Christ brought good tidings of great joy and that joy goes far deeper than anything that our minds or efforts can conjure, though it is no sin to enjoy those things.
It is joy rooted first and foremost in His work of redemption, the fulcrum point of all history. It is joy that rejoices in the love of God personified in a little child laid in a manger, whose love is stalwart and never dies.