It was on a December 27th (long enough ago that I got the news over a corded phone) that my family was ending.
At least the blow waited until after the 25th, but is there really ever a “good time” for such things?
The result was a double whammy for Christmas. Not only was the month now historically connected with tragedy in my mind, but every family gathering since has screamed its ongoing incompleteness. The count in the room is always short.
Others have similar stories (and I’ve heard a lot worse). Christmas has a way of reminding you of what you’ve lost, or never had to begin with. A brief week of sanity before going back to the grind, fear, and disappointment.
So I’m the last person to tell anyone to “just get over it and celebrate”. The Bible defends our grace-given ability to approach God with our pain. Psalms is full of it. Jeremiah vents to God even though he knows exactly why God is inflicting his nation. Even Jesus does not try to hide his sweat and blood from his Father.
So please don’t hear me saying that God doesn’t care about our disappointment. It matters to him.
It eventually occurred to me that instead of taking my disappointment to God, I might instead be letting it usurp his throne.
As the years passed following my family’s implosion, I allowed a certain annoyance towards Christmas to creep into my heart.
Perhaps you can relate. You drive down the street perusing houses wrapped in glowing lights, listening to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra rumble out the familiar carols, and you feel…left out. As if your trials are a secret, gift-wrapped under a tree nobody is putting up. “From now on our troubles will be out of sight”…what bogus. Christmas is when they most come INTO sight.
So I felt entitled to the cynicism. It validated my frustration and helplessness. “I don’t get to celebrate like everyone else, so I won’t celebrate in my heart.”
The frustration was real. But I wasn’t taking it to God. I was trying to put it in God’s place. For whatever rules your soul is the thing you’ve put on your life’s throne.
Part of becoming mature in the faith is accepting our place in things. At the end of the day, there is still a throne. And I am not on it.
Christmas is the advent of the One who is.
Christmas is the arrival of the One who can repair our lives.
Christmas is the approach of the One who can make my heart strong and true when he doesn’t repair.
Christmas is the announcement of the One who will ultimately leave behind all our craters in a rear-view mirror darkly.
And one day I wondered -how much sense does it make to toss all this out of my heart? Shouldn’t all this be bigger than my struggles?Shouldn’t HE be bigger?
And if he is bigger, so is the holiday that heralds his coming.
It was easy for my internal dialogue to respond “Sure, God, you can be bigger…so BE bigger. Fix things!” But that wasn’t the way out. I tried it. It didn’t work. I found instead that putting him back on the throne of my life, acknowledging his sovereignty and his way of doing things – including his right to decide how to respond to Satan’s assault on my family – actually opened the door to his comfort. Surrender first, then comfort.
The manger points to the cross. The cross points to the empty tomb. Victory over all suffering, the wiping away of all tears, is secured and on its way. Though sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning.
Does my life ever reflect that? My attitude?
I’m learning to find a balance between mourning and morning. I have come to believe that there are times to grieve and times to give Jesus credit for being bigger than our disappointments.
Try taking a day and dedicating your attitude towards God’s superiority over your travails. You will need his strength to do this, for our outrage and anger towards him are considerable. But I do not think you will find any other gateway to his comfort. He is on the throne; we are not. Everything gets rolling when we acknowledge that.
Without the cross and the empty tomb, we are more to be pitied than any man. With them, we are more than conquerors. Our hope is immutable. Our God is incredible.
That’s why I bought my first Christmas tree two years ago, and why I will do so again this weekend.