Some years the holidays are truly wonderful, and the child inside of us glows with wonder at the lights, the songs, and the gifts.
But there are other years, times when we are numb with grief over a loved one, or dealing with the fallout of a divorce, or trying to keep a brave face despite months-long unemployment. In years like this, the holidays can feel downright brutal… a far cry from “the most wonderful time of the year” that the songs jeer at us, mockingly.
When the holidays don’t feel wonderful, the miracle of Christmas is that God is WITH US, even in the darkest of times. We don’t have to “feel” the right way for God to come to us at Christmas. He comes down to join us in our pain and in our mess before we’re even sure if we know how to ask.
Don’t be fooled by “perfect” manger scenes. The first Christmas wasn’t “wonderful” in the glitzy-Santa sense. Mary and Joseph had traveled nearly 100 miles on foot, given birth in a stable that smelled like dirty sheep, and the whole time had to worry about maniacal political leaders who were actively hunting for their baby to kill him. Fear, grief, worry – that was all present at the First Christmas Season.
God didn’t wait for the “perfect holiday season” to send His Son the first time, and He doesn’t need your life to be perfect to bless you this Christmas, either.
One of my favorite names given to the Baby Jesus is “Emmanuel – God is with us.”
I imagine Mary in the middle of all of her struggles, clutching a child named with a promise – Emmanuel – God is with his people.
If you are facing a holiday season full of suffering, claim this truth: God is with me, right here, right now. If you are dealing with the fallout of a divorce or other family difficulty, know this: God is with me, right here, right now. If you are missing a dearly beloved family member around the table this Christmas, say to yourself until you believe it: God is with me, right here, and right now. Whatever your struggle is, God wants to be with you in it. In line at Costco. Alone on Christmas Eve. Wracked with financial stress. God is with me, God is for me. That is the true meaning of Christmas.
God literally named His Son with the promise: “He is with us.” In our pain, in our grief. We don’t have to fake it with God, we don’t have to pretend to be happy or decorate the perfect tree. This Christmas, God has one goal: to come into your life, and be Emmanuel for you. To remind you that you’re not alone. God isn’t worried that we’re sinful, or broken, or have all sorts of issues. (He knew that already. He has come to heal us and set us free.)
God isn’t asking you to be merry, or jolly, or joyful this Christmas.
God is asking you to open your heart to Him, to let Him be Emmanuel to you. We say “yes” to this invitation by dragging ourselves to Confession, and letting Him heal us of our sins. We say “yes” to this invitation by taking a moment at Christmas Mass to mindfully receive Him in Holy Communion. We say “yes” to this invitation by taking a deep breath and asking Him to walk with us through the hard times, to show us the way ahead.
God wants to be Emmanuel for us, and no particular set of feelings are required. We can accept this offer while grieving, while anxious, and while sick in bed. All God is asking of us is a willing heart. He will do the rest.
May God bless you.