“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
There's an inescapable darkness that comes around Christmas time. You know how it gets darker earlier in the evening? How you look outside and see the cold night then look down at your phone just to see that it’s only 5:30pm, and wonder "is it really that dark already?” It’s like that's not just the reality of the sun setting earlier but it’s also the state of our souls this time of year. A lot of us wrestle with anxiety or depression or at least seem to generally be high stress. But something about Christmas always makes these things worse, not better.
I work in a coffee shop. I’m coming up on my being there for my first full year. I got hired in January, so I’ve now been there for every season in a year. Everyday I make small talk with hundreds of people. Everyday I ask hundreds of people, “How’s your day going?” All year long most people seem to be doing alright. Even if they're not then they are at least putting on a smile and saying they are. Which isn’t necessarily something I encourage, but you could say that they are at least trying. But since December started, really since Thanksgiving, I can’t help but notice how many people have replaced "doing good!” and “not too bad!” with “just trying to hang in there” or “stressed. I’m so behind on shopping” or “just trying to get some peace by myself with my family being in town and all.”
It's small talk, but it’s heavy.
I smile and ring up their order and saying something along the lines of “man, I'm sorry to hear that. Hopefully this drink will give you some cheer for your day.” But I always leave those customers wishing that Christmas wasn't like this.
I was talking with a friend the other day about the holidays. He comes from a broken family like I do. He was saying that Christmas is always weird for him because he has to go to multiple family members houses in the day because some family members like each other and others don't like each other and it's all just a complicated mess. I told him I understand. That since my grandma died in 2007, my family hasn’t really had a tradition since. "What are you doing for Christmas" has always been “I don’t really know. We'll probably figure it out the day before or something.” We both talked about how the holidays magnify how unified or divided your family really is.
That’s what Christmas does to us. It puts the broken pieces of our lives right in front of us.
That’s where I find Christ. I love that we celebrate Jesus’ birth every year, but I hate how that annual celebration can sometimes make us numb to what actually went down that night when he was born.
In the midst of a life full of brokenness that I can’t avoid, I need some glad tidings of comfort and joy. I need some good news. It's not for no reason that the angels told Mary that her son would be called Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor. I need Peace to be the law of the land and my Counselor better be Wonderful for the things I still have to work through. Jesus stands up on the mount for one of his first sermons, calls people to the Kingdom of God, and then says, “come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” Yeah. That’s for me. I’m in.
After my grandma passed away the day after Christmas in 2007, the birth of Christ has always been clouded by death. I can't think about Christmas without remembering the hardship of her final few months battling cancer. How hard it was. How she sat on the couch, talking with my uncle who was also recently diagnosed with cancer, both of them talking about their cancers and life and coming to terms with their fates. How her and my dad finally had a moment of love that was lost to bitterness for so many years. How my grandpa still talks about that week to this day, 9 years later.
In the night before Christmas, I need some light. That’s why I love that verse from John 1 at the top. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. That’s Gospel. That's good news. We can’t ignore our darkness. But it can be filled. It can be filled with the light of life. God became flesh and blood and moved into our darkness and problems and issues and depression and anxiety and stress and doubts and he filled it with the light of life. He’s brought hope to the downcast that God actually does see your pain and hurt and mess and he is with you and loves you in the midst of it.
I don't know about you, but that's what I’m celebrating this Christmas. That in the midst of all of the darkness that this season puts before me, God has come. Christ has moved in. The light has shone and life takes center stage. Death, despair, and depression don't have the final words. Peace, joy, faith, hope, and love do.
O come, O come Emmanuel. God with us.