I don't know about anybody else, but Christmas always kind of sneaks up on me and finds me unprepared. Maybe because here on the edge of the desert where "Christian" things are celebrated only by the minority, it's just easy to forget.
Some of the big stores have Christmas decorations and extra toys and candy for sale, but that's about all we see of Christmas. There are no constant advertisements, no decorations all over town, no Santa Clauses ringing bells, no Christmas carols on the radio and oddly enough not even at church, etc. At the same time, life is busy for us right now and so it just always sneaks up. I find myself with little energy for doing Christmasy things.
So I spent most of Christmas Eve doing very un-Christmasy things. I worked on getting linens and kitchen supplies for a short-termer who is arriving this week.
I also printed his syllabus for him (well, took it to the printer). I did make bread, and sweet rolls for Christmas breakfast, and I cooked the chicken for our Christmas dinner. And I wrapped gifts. We had a super simple supper, nothing special. And then we went to church.
Usually we have a really big celebration at our church. Culturally that was hard for me to get used to, but now I really enjoy it. We start by a Christmas Eve service that usually starts around 8 or 9 and goes until midnight. Then on Christmas Day we have a three hour service followed by a shared meal. But our church is going through a hard time right now, so things have been pretty subdued. The Christmas Eve service started earlier than we thought, so we missed most of it ... we got there at 9:00 and it was over by 10:30. And it was pretty basic without all the extras we usually have.
Church on Christmas Day was also a much shorter more subdued service than normal and we didn't have any meal afterwards. The youth (which is mostly university age) did have a meal together because most of them are away from their families during Christmas. John preached the Christmas message and did a great job.
He preached on the title that Jesus used for himself: the Son of Man. So it was a Christmas that was, understandably, lacking in some of its joy. But there are times to rejoice and times to mourn and maybe times to find the balance between the two. I think that's what our Christmas this year was: a balance of mourning and rejoicing.
We have a group of university students who come to our house weekly for a Bible study, so we invited them over for Christmas dinner in the evening. I made a big pot of curry and we had 12 different toppings to put on it.
I also wrapped gifts for each of our guests. Everybody got a candy bar and a pack of gum and the boys got flashlights and the girls got nail polish.
We watched a movie and sang together.
So that was probably the best part of Christmas for us.
On Monday John and I opened our gifts. I stayed in my flannel pajama pants all day and truly had a day off.
So, I've been thinking about Christmas and what it means. I really like happy Christmases with lots of family, good food, traditions, and warm fuzzy feelings. But some Christmases just aren't like that. Some Christmases, like I said, are a balance between mourning and rejoicing. And for some people, Christmas is a really sad time as they work through grief, abuse, or loneliness.
Suzanne wrote on an Instagram post, "This is by far the hardest Christmas I've ever had. Yet in that, I have found that I was able to focus so much more on the true meaning of Christmas: a baby born to redeem the world and save us from the sin and brokenness of the world. Everything about my Christmas was humbling, how much more humbling was a baby born in a barn -- to save the world?! *a thrill of hope the weary world rejoices*" Have you noticed how when God brings something to your attention, you start seeing that idea all around you? Well, soon after I read Suzanne's post, I read on DesiringGod's Instagram: "If you are suffering this Christmas, you have far more in common with Jesus than the comfortable and contented. All was not calm, and all was not bright when Jesus was born. God chose the most painfully humiliating circumstances for the opening scene of his Son's sufferings. From the beginning of his life, Christ became the living evidence that the hope of God is for the suffering."
So maybe it's ok to have a more subdued Christmas, to contemplate that Jesus' birth brings hope, forgiveness of sins, restoration, and new life, and that that hope was birthed in suffering and in difficulty. Just think of Mary, suffering excruciating pain, probably alone and definitely far from home. Think of Joseph pacing the stable while his wife labored to bring her child into the world. Then Jesus was laid in a manger as the animals looked on, a pretty humbling surrounding. Soon after the Kings came to offer him gifts (probably a year or two later), all baby boys under two years ended up being killed. Jesus lived simply, with no place to lay his head and the religious leaders were out to get him. He was born into a period of history when there was great oppression and civil unrest. He suffered a cruel, violent death. But through that suffering was birthed the way to peace and to hope.
Emmanuel, God with us, here with us in our suffering, in our sadness, in our pain. Wonderful Counselor, speaking to our hearts with understanding, convicting us of sin. Mighty God, able to forgive our sins and heal our hurts. Everlasting Father, preparing us for a beautiful, perfect, peace-filled Eternity. Prince of Peace, bringing peace to the turmoil of our hearts and in the world.
Sadness, yes, but a thrill of hope! The weary world rejoices.