This is the fourth article of a weekly series of Advent reflections. To read the third piece, please click here: Peace Past Understanding.
While social media often in December becomes a platform for sharing holiday highlights and perfect family photos of kids with jolly old St. Nick, or in corresponding Christmas onesies, I’ve been noticing a different trend this year. While the picture-perfect pictures have certainly been circulating (I’ve lost count of how many of my friends had babies this year), there’s another kind of share emerging.
I’ve been seeing on my news feeds friends posting reflections or photos of loved ones who won’t be around this Christmas, blog posts inspiring simplicity in gift giving, encouragement to those for whom the holidays are traumatic. I’ve been reading conversations about how the Christmas season may not be magical this year for some, and that having yourself a less than Merry Little Christmas might just be OK.
Maybe it’s because we see reflections of ourselves in others that I’ve been seeing this trend (last Christmas was, for me, not great), but it’s difficult to ignore this very real and raw effort of so many dear to me, who are admitting surrender to the consumerist, Hallmark, perfectly magical Christmas we’re all supposed to have in a few short days.
The third week of Advent, of which we are at the tail end, signifies joy. And Christmas may be the most joyful time of year for some, but in a more real way, it’s likely not for many. For them, the four weeks of Advent may be filled with more dread that anticipation, more triggers than memories.
Hearts ache with memories of Christmases past, ones where those we love gathered, and now their chair is empty, their sweater unworn, their gifts unopened, their presence gone. Or maybe it’s the pain of surrendering the expectations of wanting a perfect celebration and finding in each year more disappointment than the last.
Whatever the case, it hurts. It doesn’t feel okay, much less joyful. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon by any means. I’m sure people have been having difficult Christmases since the first one occurred. But I am grateful. Grateful for the permission not to have a perfect Christmas. To have a nice Christmas, a decent Christmas, maybe even a beautiful Christmas. But one that’s imperfect.
For my own sake, and for the sake of those who have suffered loss, pain, loneliness, or any number of difficulties in the days that span between this Christmas and last, I am grateful for the permission in these posts and shares.
The surrendering of a perfect Christmas gives us all the opportunity to breathe, and accept with serenity whatever might come. Maybe this Christmas will be the most beautiful and memorable, or maybe the turkey will be burnt and dry and all subsequent events go downhill.
As I reflect on the concept of a joyous Advent and Christmas season, I’m reminded that joy doesn’t have to be in mine or anyone else’s circumstances to be in Christmas. Maybe it’s there, or maybe it’s not. If it isn’t, does that preclude anyone from having a joyous Christmas?
It might not feel joyful, or it might feel so joyful that you feel the gingerbread men in your belly might burst with elation.
But if we’re less inclined to be guided by our own Christmas experience, and rather look to the manger for the beginning and end to our joy, then perhaps we can have that Merry Little Christmas regardless of whether our siblings fight over politics and religion, or the entire Christmas meal ends up falling on the floor, ruined. No matter the circumstances, the baby in the manger is there, and who can but rejoice over the presence of a newborn?
As surely many of us will either sing or hear sung on and throughout Christmas: Joy to the world for the Lord is come. The Savior reigns. He reigns even when joy seems impossible, even when Christmas past comes to haunt us, even when unrest threatens our hearts and minds.
I wrote last week about letting peace come to us wherever we’re at, and the week before about the need for darkness to appreciate light, and even before about living now. The culmination of all of this, I think, is to allow God to give us Himself at Christmas. Whatever it is, wherever we are. We are united to Him in the manger, gazing over Him with Mary and Joseph, knowing that if we were the only person ever to walk this Earth, He would still have been there. Just for us.
Let this Christmas serve as a reminder of His presence, remembering that Jesus Himself awaits us in the stable. No matter how the turkey, conversations, or memories turn out, there can truly be peace, hope, joy and love in our hearts at the sight of Him this Christmas. I take heart knowing and remembering this, that despite any other circumstances or mishaps, Christ is truly present in our midst this season, if we allow Him in and create the space for Him to lay in the manger of our hearts.