It happened again this year. Starting around the third week of November, the inflatable Santas began to appear on rooftops, shoppers flocked to the Americana, families gathered to bake cookies and watch Hallmark Christmas specials and we doubled our average daily intake of calories – all to a frenetically merry 24/7 KOST 103.5 soundtrack. Not even COVID could spoil Christmas.
That said, even in the best of years, Christmas isn’t all candles and candy canes. For most of us, and now more than ever, it’s a time of conflicting emotions. We feel childish excitement, profound gratitude, and overwhelming love for family members and friends. At the same time, we’re tempted to spend money we don’t have, tell bad jokes and drink too much special punch. Nearly ten months into the pandemic, we’re weary of virtual contact. We miss our church family and feel homesick even when we’re home. Some of us feel let down by our friends – and maybe envious of their happiness. In our darkest moments, we feel disappointed with God.
I love the way Dr. Kate Bosher talks about our Christmas longings (Dr. Bosher was a Classics professor at Northwestern University):
"Isn’t it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for – I don’t know what exactly, but it’s something that you don’t mind so much not having at other times."
Some say the secret to contentment – or at least to minimizing misery – is to lower your expectation. That diagnosis is overly simplistic. Our seasonal disappointments aren’t just about spoiled egg nog and political fights at the dinner table. They have much more to do with the fact that the heavenly promises of Christmas are never fulfilled as we’d like them to be. We yearn for a world at peace, but the New Year inevitably brings news of another war. We long to see human hearts changed, but our personal failures and weaknesses persist. The Savior is born, yet we wait and wait for his return.
What we’re lonely for – what we crave at this hope-filled time of the year – is intimacy with the Lord Jesus. And that loneliness is a gift. It’s a message from God’s Spirit to our spirits. It’s the beginning of the answer to the deep, deep yearning of our hearts.
So we’re drawn once again to our Emmanuel – God made flesh, lying in a manger. We’re reminded once again of the glorious promises. As we surrender our lives to the Lord, we discover a peace we’ve never known, a peace that no setback, no war, no pandemic can take away from us. As we tune our hearts to his heart, we experience a joy, the durable kind of joy proclaimed by the angels – joy that isn’t dependent on circumstances – joy that comes from walking with our gracious God and bringing glory to him.