Christmas is a time of comfort. Almost anyone will agree with this. When we think about Christmas we think about a warm fire, something hot to drink, reclining in a comfortable chair. We think of listening to pleasant music, exchanging gifts joyfully with loved ones, and bringing to mind all the beautiful times past and all the hopes for the future. Comfort and Joy are the essential words that describe for me the Christmas Spirit.
But maybe that’s not where this season of advent finds you. Maybe this Christmas finds you in a season of longing, or sorrow, or grief. Maybe there is one less place to lay around the table this year. Maybe you had hoped to hang an extra stocking, but yet after what feels like forever, there are still only two. Maybe your heart is broken. Maybe your child is sick. Maybe your life just hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would. Maybe a grief threatens to drown you. Or maybe you are just tired of living with a dull ache in your chest. How could you celebrate at a time like this?
Dear Reader, let me tell you something: The Comfort of Christmas was meant for you. It was for Comfort, that Jesus came. And the thing we have forgotten in the midst of all our “Holly Jolly” Christmases, is that comfort is only required in the presence of sorrow and grief.
“The Weary World Rejoices.”
–O Holy Night
Christmas is the Holiday where we celebrate the way that sorrow and grief can turn to joy, in the presence of a Living Hope.
And this is the miracle of it all. That seeing our distress and sorrow, God Almighty was moved with compassion, and moved towards us. Closer, and closer, till he was closer than Mary’s own skin. And he humbled himself, to the lowest, smallest most helpless form. And he came, to be born in a filthy barn, surrounded by farm animals. To be gawked at by the lowest rung of society. To be raised by sinful and imperfect parents, to a destiny that involved horrific betrayal, and a torturous death at the hands of those he loved and came to save.
Gather ’round, ye children, come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of Death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man
-Andrew Peterson, Behold the Lamb of God
If you are grieving today, let Christmas be your comfort. Not the comfort of the world that says you need to put aside all thoughts of sorrow and force yourself into some Christmas cookie shape of joy; but allow the comfort of the Gospel to be your joy.
I truly believe that true and deep joy can only come through grief and sorrow. In Comfort, there is a joy and depth that cannot be felt at any other time. Maybe it’s the blessed miracle of God’s nearness to us. Maybe we can only really sense it clearly when we are being forced to cling to it.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week thinking about where I’ve come from this year. I spent the first few months revving up for what I thought would be the year that I wrote my first book proposal. We were getting ready to sell our condo, buy our first house and for the most part, everything was going perfectly well. Then out of the clear blue sky in March I got sick. So sick that I thought I was going to die.
Then after I didn’t die, I thought for two weeks that I was going to live a life of severe and deteriorating disability.
Then after that, two months of still being unable to really take care of my family, punctuated by more tests and unanswered questions. Still to this day, unanswered.
Then out of the clear blue sky I began to get well again. With still little, to no explanation for what happened to me.
But let me tell you what I learned those first two weeks of illness. That first night, struggling for breath, my arms numb and leaden and the numbness creeping quickly from my toes towards my chest, I said to God a frantic prayer, “I need to take care of my Babies!” But in the midst of my overwhelming terror, in the midst of believing with every fiber of my being that in a moment I would suffocate, and that that was how I was going to die… in that moment, God comforted me.
He reminded me that he is a God of faithfulness. That he would not leave or forsake my children, my husband, or me. He reminded me that my children need Him more than they need me. That he is writing their story, even as he is writing mine.
And in and out, though difficult, I kept breathing.
Now not able to even speak, but knowing an ambulance was on the way, I prayed in my head like a chant that I chose. I TRUST YOU JESUS. I TRUST YOU JESUS. I TRUST YOU JESUS. Whatever happens, I trust YOU Jesus!
Later that night, when the ambulance had taken me to the hospital, I sat in the bed weak and exhausted, but not too tired to make jokes. (Because that’s what I do in scary and stressful situations you know?) And I told my husband what I now realized like a lightning bolt, that In Him we live and move and have our being. That all things are upheld my the word of His Power. That every breathe we breathe is by His Grace and His Grace alone.
And I wasn’t frantic. I wasn’t panicked. I was peaceful.
In the week of incredible physical weakness that followed, we landed in the ER a second time, which is when we first heard the words MS. And in the week and a half from those words to my MRI and neurology appointment, we went round and round on this not-so-merry-go-round of emotions. But presiding over that, in the midst of it, there was peace. And in a moment that I can only explain as Spirit filled certainty, I penned these words in my journal:
“I don’t even care if God heals me. He’s doing something, and I’m so excited to be apart of it. So with every fiber of my being I say, ‘YES Jesus. YES Jesus. YES JESUS.”
In the moment when I thought that everything I ever thought my life would be had gone by the complete way-side. When my own mortality was staring me in the face. When my grief over an uncertain future and painful present threatened to destroy me, there was comfort. There was peace. There was joy.
Because I know that our God is a God of miracles. That He is Sovereign. That He works for the good of those who love Him in all things. That wherever I am is exactly where He has me, and because He loves me, I don’t have to be afraid.
Even in the midst of the darkness of Sin and all its consequences, the LORD is a God of Unbroken Promises.
The promise of Christmas was the first comfort God ever gave to us in the midst of our sin. When He cast Adam and Eve out of Eden, He promised Eve that someday, one of her offspring would crush the head of the serpent. Mere hours after the first sin, came the first comfort. The hope of a Savior.
Even though from that moment on the world was cracked and broken and desperately needing redemption, Adam and Eve went on and were comforted by the gracious promise of provision from the Lord. “Where there is no way, I will make a Way,” He said.
This is the Comfort of Christmas. Not the cocoa with the tiny marshmallows, or the roaring fire, or the presents from friends and family. Not the days off work, or the beauty of the trees and the lights that surround us, or the sumptuous meals we’ll soon be eating around the table. No. The Comfort of Christmas is the comfort for all our sorrow: That He He loves us. That He is for us. That in coming as a baby, and dying on the cross, He removed the barrier between us, and the sting of death from us. That we are no longer slaves to sin, but free to serve our Good and Righteous King. That we are no longer under law, but under grace.
No matter what season of struggle or suffering you are in this Christmas, if you know Jesus, it is well with your soul. And in the midst of struggle and trial, He will give you His Comfort.
I promise you. He will.
“For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
‘In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.'” (Isaiah 30:15)
Wherever you are today; whether you are frantic with worry or frantic with preparations. Whether you are grieving a loss or fearing a loss, or feel like you are losing yourself. Wherever you are, let Him find you this Christmas. It’s okay to be where you are, let Him meet you there. Don’t let shame have the last word, let Love. And let the Gospel comfort you, and give you peace and joy like you have never experienced before.
Blessings on you as you prepare for Christmas Dear Reader. And let the Comfort of Christmas be God’s gift to You this year.