Sadness cannot spoil Christmas. It cannot render Christmas meaningless, it cannot expose it as irrelevant, and it cannot rob it of its joy. Christmas is simply not under the jurisdiction of tragedy and calamity, for it is into this tragic and calamitous world that Jesus comes. Christmas doesn’t answer to our despair; instead, our despair must answer to the fact that Jesus has come/is coming into the world.
And yet, the number of suicides is higher this time of year. We pick out gifts, hang decorations, enjoy music, and all the while many of us are struggling with a depression that is uglier than it is at any other time of the year.
This is no way helped by the drunk driver that plows into a carload of women on Christmas Eve; or the Memphis police officer murdered in the line of duty, missing Christmas with her four young daughters by a week and a half; or the Connecticut first graders gunned down along with their teachers on that very same morning.
But so often, we think Christmas must answer to these events. Some people have taken down their decorations in the past several days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others have written Christmas completely off this year.
If only we realized that Christmas isn’t at the mercy of this current world, and of this present age. This world must answer to Christmas, and so must our attitudes and our convictions. It’s not the other way around.
How have we gotten so confused? And if it wasn’t a horrible tragedy or two, it would be something else. You all know how it goes: “I’m just not in the Christmas mood …” for whatever reason. How many times do we hear this? How many times do we say this?
It’s because of what we have made Christmas into–an opportunity for people to muster up warm feelings, a bracket of time reserved for happiness. We set as our goal holiday cheer, and we keep presents, hot chocolate, lights, and carols in our knapsack hoping we will have enough of these supplies to get ourselves there.
Here’s the problem: Christmas isn’t about how in-tune you can get with the season, or how happy you can make yourself for at least a little while. It’s not about mustering up warm fuzzies next to a fireplace, with hot cider and without any worries. If Christmas is equal to your own ability to meet your own standard of Christmas cheer and comfort, then it is of little worth, and you are missing what this holiday season is actually about in the first place.
For it is in the midst of all of this that Jesus comes. And, yes, Jesus was “born to die,” as it is sometimes put, but that’s only part of the truth. Jesus comes not just to die, but to reign. He comes, not to gather his faithful and sweep them off into heaven, leaving this world to deteriorate, but to meet us here, and to live with us here. And of course everything is changed as a result:
Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:3-4
If anything, hardship and sorrow remind us that our hope is not our own resourcefulness to make ourselves happy with presents and lights and festivities. Because when the gifts are opened and the decorations are taken down, we will remain unsatisfied. We will take a look at our world and think, “How about a rescue from all this?” We will wonder, “Why can’t we be saved from all of this?” “How about some help?” “Why doesn’t God show up??”
The irony will be thick enough to cut with a knife, because this is exactly what Christmas is about. God has shown up, does show up, and will show up. He is in charge, he is our help, and he is the salvation that we are looking for.
But, if Jesus has practically nothing to do with your version of Christmas, that’s fine. Really, it is. Just don’t be surprised that when Christmas fails you because you aren’t happy, some of us are saying, “All the more reason.” And when we fully acknowledge unimaginable grief, entering into that deep sadness right alongside you, don’t be shocked when we celebrate Christmas as if it is even more relevant. Because Christmas doesn’t answer to our sadness. Our sadness answers to Christmas.