When Christmas Isn’t All That Merry

The lights on the tree had always heralded the joyous news that Jesus, the Light of the world, had come. But on December 25, 1989, they seemed intrusive, and I stared at them resentfully. That year, I just wanted Christmas to go away.

Only a week earlier, my beloved friend Bob had lost his battle with AIDS. Oh, I understood that he had gone to heaven, having repented of his homosexuality and placed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the best way possible, God actually had given him the ultimate healing by taking him. It just wasn’t the healing I had demanded in my prayers. It wasn’t the Christmas miracle I so wanted God to perform. While everyone around me was having a holly jolly Christmas, I felt empty.

Some of you reading this post may experience such feelings this Christmas. Maybe Covid took a loved one from you this past year, and your dinner table won’t seem full. Perhaps you’ve suffered a broken engagement — or worse, a broken marriage. Maybe one of your children has turned away from Christ. Many tragic things can make the Christmas season anything but merry and bright, so that the tinsel garnishing your tree becomes nothing more than shredded aluminum foil. As much as you love Christ, this year all joy is gone.

Later on, you’ll need Scriptures that put your suffering in eternal perspective, but at this moment such exhortation would only show cruelty on my part. As I remember Christmas of 1989, I understand the tenderness of fresh grief. Right now, the wonder of Christ’s Incarnation drifts past you like an elusive snowflake, melting instantly in the heat of your sorrow. I get it. Despite your desire to celebrate God veiled in flesh, you just plain don’t want to hail the Incarnate Deity right now.

Suppose we come at the Incarnation from a different angle this Christmas. Would you consider finding comfort in Christ’s humanity? The Bible says that Jesus, having lived in a human body, knows what suffering feels like.

17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. ~~Hebrews 2:17-18 (NASB95)

Grief tempts even the most mature Christians toward despair and selfishness. It consumes us, weakening our minds, our wills and our spirits. But Christ has been through suffering. Even knowing that He would raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus wept at the tomb (John 11:33-36). Isaiah described Him as a Man of sorrows Who would bear, not just our sins, but our griefs as well (Isaiah 53:3-4). Peter invites suffering Christians to cast our cares on the Lord because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

Jesus knows that the most wonderful time of the year only magnifies the pain of those suffering loss. Therefore, hurting Christians understandably struggle to celebrate Christ’s Incarnation in the midst of grief. But hurting Christians can cling to the Incarnate Christ, confident of His sympathy. Christmas doesn’t have to be merry to be meaningful.

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