Last Christmas was the hardest Christmas I have experienced. Days before candles were lit at the Christmas Eve service at my church and merry songs of joy and celebration were sung, I was standing next to my family while my Aunt Shell’s body was lowered into the ground in a casket. I was still raw from the loss, unable to sleep and unable to drive anywhere without weeping in my car, when December 25 rolled around and seemed to demand happiness that felt impossible.
At the start of this Advent season, I was determined that this Christmas would be joyful - holly jolly and merry all the way. I’d decorate. I’d make cookies and turn on twinkle lights to beat away the darkness looming in the corners of my heart. I’d follow old traditions and make new ones if those felt too hard.
For all my good intentions, Advent just hasn’t been what I hoped. We are less than a week away from Christmas and instead of the joy I’ve been trying to muster, sadness has been a more constant companion.
There are big reasons why this season is hard: navigating the particular grief that comes with celebrating the holidays without people you love, totaling my vehicle, moving into a new house. There are smaller things as well, which all seem to have collected into a big pile this month: having to spend Saturdays at the hospital taking glucose tests, not having a working shower in our new house, navigating the frustrating world of car insurance and spending hours on the phone, waiting weeks for wifi to be installed.
All of this feels compounded by the cheer and merriness of the season. The songs and lights and gifts - all of which usually make this season so delightful to me - feel like cruel reminders that I should be rejoicing because Jesus has come!
All of this - this mess of brokenness and frustration and the overwhelming urge to just hunker down until January - this is what Christmas is for. This is the weary world that rejoices at the coming of a Savior. This is the world that Jesus came to, in all its pain and injustice. This is the beauty of Immanuel, God with us. God with us in our grief. God with us in our fear. God with us in our brokenness.
And yet the world today still feels weary and we find ourselves in this messy middle between two Advents. Theologians call this time the “already, not yet.” Yes, Jesus has come and yes, we rejoice, but we are still waiting for him to come again and restore all things. We are still waiting, and our hearts still ache and long for what will be because what is is only part of the story.
Maybe you’ve felt the weight of brokenness this December - broken expectations, broken families, a broken body - and the not yet-ness of Advent is pressing into you. Your sadness is not wrong. Your loneliness and pain is not something you should have “gotten over” by now. That ache in your soul for things to be made right is not something to be silenced. The same God who spoke the world into existence and spoke the babbling cries of an infant in order to be with us is the same God who is sustaining us now in this time of waiting.
The hope of the Christmas season is not a blind hope. It’s not a hope without teeth. It doesn’t demand we close our eyes to everything happening around us while we belt out another verse of Silent Night. This is a hope that finds its way into that empty chair at the table, that heartbreaking test result, that negative pregnancy test, and Immanuel, God with us, whispers that he is here now too. And one day he will come again, not as a baby but as a reigning King, and all will be set right and all will be made well.