My pastor is good at reminding us that the Holidays can be a difficult time. We look forward to time off work to relax and catch up with our families. But what if you have no family? What if you’ve recently lost a loved one? What if your family gatherings are tense, argumentative, and discouraging?
Though we tend to speak about Christmas as a warm, happy time—the most wonderful time of the year—Christmas for many is a reminder of brokenness, loss, or loneliness.
If you find yourself in that position, Christmas is still for you. Perhaps Christmas is especially for you. Christmas is the celebration of God coming to earth as an infant. And that journey to earth where God took on baby-smooth flesh happened because this world is broken. We are lonely people. We are quarrelsome. We are hounded by illness and death. And for that very reason God entered our world.
Jesus came because our world is broken. He came because we are broken. And he came as one of us so that he could lead us to healing, to wholeness, to reconciliation. The birth of Jesus was the rekindling of hope. It was God insisting that sin and death would not have the last world. All would be well. The angels appeared to the shepherds and announced peace on earth with the arrival of Jesus (Luke 2:14). And Paul reminds us that “he himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).
So if you find yourself alone this Christmas, or with an empty chair around the dinner table, remember that Jesus was born. Remember that because Jesus became a human child, sacrificed himself, and defeated death we will see our loved ones in Christ again. Remember that Jesus promised those who had chosen to follow him rather than clinging to family that they would be rewarded “a hundredfold” with family, “brothers and sisters and mothers and children” (Mark 10:30).
This does not make loss or loneliness enjoyable, nor should our goal be to keep a stiff upper lip. But you need to know that no matter how bitter your loss or persistent your loneliness, you have one and only one hope for wholeness, and we celebrate his birth at Christmas time. Strategies, platitudes, and self-help books are not enough to get you through. What you need is a Person, and he came as an infant in a feeding trough for your sake.
And if you find yourself in a tense family environment with irreconcilable differences and constant antagonism, or if you find yourself relatively alone on Christmas in an effort to avoid such a situation, remember that the baby you celebrate this Christmas season came to reconcile two groups who warred against one another:
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:14–17)
This does not make complex family dysfunction enjoyable. These situations are not easily reversed. But Christmas means that healing is possible. The only hope you have for restored relationships is the baby who would one day give his life to absorb the hostility of angry, selfish, sinful people.
I don’t write this in an effort to convince hurting people to cheer up. Grieving, hurting, and weeping may be the most appropriate thing you can do this Christmas season. But I do believe that we all need to see that the most important thing any of us can remember at Christmas time is the birth of Jesus. We need to remember him as we brave the shopping malls. We need to remember him as we happily unwrap presents around the Christmas tree. We need to remember him as we enjoy our families.
And we need to remember him as we feel the sting of loss. We need to remember him when once-comforting traditions turn into reminders of our pain. We need to remember him as we endure criticism or try to love the unlovable.
We all have only one hope, and at Christmas time we celebrate his humble arrival to earth, where he would grow into the Man who conquered every power, including death, and who will one day return to wipe our every tear and rid our world of evil once and for all.
“The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:10–14)