This Christmas season has shown me, perhaps more than any other, that Christmas is not always…well, Merry – at least not for everyone, and not in a super-jubilant, festive kind of way. For many people, weighty life-circumstances will cast a burdensome cloud over what is otherwise a generally festive season. In the past month or so, I have participated in 5 different funeral services. For those families, there will likely be a lower level of excitement than would have been the case if their loved one were here to celebrate with them. Some of our friends found out in the last few weeks that their 10 year old son has leukemia. While their faith is strong, and their trust in God is sure, to say that this Christmas experience will be emotionally different than those in the past would be a great understatement. Just this evening, I went to the hospital to visit an 87 year old friend who, unless God provides miraculous healing, will likely not be here when I return from visiting family for Christmas. For his family, this Christmas will no doubt have a little less feeling of Merry-ness.
Even within our own family, we continue to approach Christmas Day having more questions than answers about Abbie’s medical situation. Today required another visit to the pediatrician, a trip to Great Clips to have her head pretty-much shaved, and a trip to Five Below to buy her a few cute hats to wear so she can be more comfortable going out in public. Our ability to celebrate with an unhindered sense of happiness and excitement has certainly been affected. So, what is a person (or family) to do when their life circumstances seem to be – at least from an emotional standpoint – taking some of the “Merry” out of their “Christmas?”
It is at this point that we must remember the reason Jesus came. Jesus did not come simply to give otherwise sad people the emotion of happiness. He came to give spiritually-dead and hopeless people the certain hope of life – abundant and eternal. The Christ-child born in Bethlehem – the Son of God – came as Emmanuel, God with us. He did not come to remove us from the painful circumstances of this sin-ravaged world, but to bring us hope in the midst of it – hope that can only be found in Him. Jesus lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on the cross, and rose from the grave on the third day, demonstrating His power even over death, hell and the grave. And, to all who repent of their sin and place their faith in Him as the only Savior and Lord, He gives Himself, which includes His peace…and hope.
Those who have trusted in Christ can live with hope, even in the midst of difficult circumstances, knowing as surely as Jesus came to be born in that manger over 2000 years ago, He will come again to put an end to all of these painful and difficult circumstances we face today. This is what Paul had in mind as he wrote “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Until that time comes, Christ’s presence is ever with us, by His Spirit who lives within us. This is why Christians can celebrate Christmas, whether or not, because of their circumstances, they feel particularly “Merry.” The ability to celebrate comes not through the emotion found in a season, but rather in the hope found in a Savior. Jesus Christ is this Savior. For, as the angel said to the shepherds on that hillside so many years ago, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
I have seen this peace and hope lived out around me. My 87 year old friend, so weak he could barely keep his eyes open and needing to rest between sentences, said to me tonight from his hospital bed, “God has been so good to me. I love Him. I praise Him. I thank Him.” A friend wrote a note to us about her observation of how our sweet Abbie has been handling her health issues and her hair falling out. She wrote:
I am so amazed when I look at the picture of Abbie you posted! Never have I seen someone her age who is leaning on Jesus so hard! She is truly an example of what we as Christians are to look like and live like when we are going through something that we don’t understand!
I do not share those two examples to make much ado about my friend or my daughter. Instead, I share those examples to demonstrate practical evidence of the hope that can be found in their great Savior, the Lord Jesus. Their strength does not come from their ability to muster up hope, but rather from the One in whom their hope is found.
You may be entering this Christmas season feeling more burdened than blessed. Maybe you are experiencing financial burdens. Maybe your marriage seems to be falling apart. Maybe you are facing some medical crisis. Maybe you have recently lost a loved one. If so, Christmas may not feel as “Merry” as you would want. If you are a Christian and find yourself in one of those situations, or one that is similarly heavy, take heart. Christmas need not feel “Merry” in order to be full of hope. You can celebrate Christmas simply knowing that Christ – Emmanuel, God with us – has come, bringing hope and peace to all who surrender their lives to Him.
If you have never repented of your sin and placed your faith in Jesus Christ, I encourage you to do so. It is only through Him that you can celebrate a Hope-full Christmas, “Merry” or not.