Have you ever noticed how Christmas songs are either extremely happy or sad?
We either celebrate the joy of the season, or we long for the season to be joyful. We sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” or we lament, “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.”
Christmas punctuates not only the joy in our lives but also the sadness. And nobody I know wants a sad Christmas.
So we strive to jolly up the season every year; dreaming of the perfect Christmas and exhausting ourselves pushing it into reality.
We decorate with tinsel and lights, pick out the perfect tacky sweater, make appearances at the parties, drink the eggnog, snap some pictures, purchase presents, watch our favorite Christmas movies, spend time with family, take more pictures, wrap the presents, restage then retake the pictures and all in a grand effort to create an experience we will remember and cherish.
We want Christmas to be merry. And we dislike the dark side of Christmas—the corners of our lives where twinkle lights go to die. At this point, Christmas illuminates our darkness.
When There is No Light
In the Bible, God’s word is described as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). And in between the Old and New Testament, there were 400 years of silence.
This silence left God’s people in the dark, and waiting stirred in them an incredible longing for a salvific light. Year after year, they waited, prayed and waited some more.
Maybe you can relate. For you, Christmas has become a yearly reminder of unanswered prayer. While everyone else seems to be thriving in merriment, you are struggling to believe. Like ancient Israel, you long for a Christmas miracle to save you from your pain, yet silence persists. You want to “have yourself a merry little Christmas,” but you don’t know how.
But if Christmas teaches us anything, it’s that God answers prayers in unexpected ways. Israel wanted a blazing explosion of light to eradicate the darkness of their sorrows, yet Jesus came as a humble flame in the night.
In obscurity, the King of kings entered our world surrounded by manure, poverty and the threat of death at the hands of mad, king Herod. And as the apostle Paul instructs us, it is “this mindset” of humility that we should have among ourselves (Philippians 2:5).
Regaining our Center of Gravity
The holidays tend to intensify the norms of life. For whatever reason, the depressed embrace the darkness of the season, and the elated broadcast the light. I’ve come to believe that’s natural, and the season itself lends to both being appropriate in moderation.
The problem we experience at Christmas is that the depressed can struggle to “rejoice with those who rejoice”. And the elated can refuse to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15)—because after all, it’s the happiest season of all.
Of course, this struggle to open our hearts to others makes sense when unfettered joy is the goal of the Christmas season. But I wonder if we’ve missed the point of Christmas.
Certainly, Mary and Joseph experienced both immense joy at the birth of the Savior and deep disappointment at their inability to give Him a more dignified entrance into the world. Yet Jesus chose the manger over the magnificent.
If Christmas reminds us of anything, it’s that Jesus humbled Himself. And because He did so, we can too.
God is not Santa Claus
I’m afraid we are more impacted by stories about Santa than stories of the nativity.
The story of Christmas is a story about humility. And humility allows us to give and receive this time of year. Humility enables us—if we’re depressed or delighted—to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
And this kind of humility is possible this Christmas precisely because God is not a cosmic Santa. He is not as the song says:
Making a list and checking it twice,
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice,
Santa Claus is coming to town,
He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re a wake,
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake.
God is not Santa; He is our Savior. Despite our inability to “be good for goodness sake,” Jesus came to town and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
This humility established Christmas two thousand years ago, and this humility makes Christmas merry for us today. And when we are humble, we can accept His will for our lives—the beautiful and the difficult parts of life.
When we humbly remember that Christmas is not about us but Jesus, then we can be present to God and others in mourning the darkness and in rejoicing over the light. Humble hands can hold both joy and pain because in humility God opened His hands to serve us by dying on the tree.
When humility becomes our focus at Christmas, we will find it’s okay to long for the good gifts we do not yet have. We will find it’s okay to celebrate the gifts God has so lavished upon us.