Amid the bubbling, glittering rush of excitement that accompanies Christmas, a considerable number of people feel themselves outside the whirl of merriment. Whether anyone is to blame or not, many hearts are weighed down with sadness at the time when joy is most widely emphasized. If Charlie Brown were to raise his questions today, he would find himself in very good company.
The reasons vary. Some are going through their first Christmas without some loved one, in whose absence the festivities can easily become painful reminders of how things were when that person was there. Others find themselves left alone, with no family or friends to share any sort of celebration with them. Still others may feel unable to rejoice in the face of physical or mental illness, the suffering of someone close to them, material hardship, family conflicts, anxiety over a troubled past or an uncertain future—any of the things that can cripple the heart and impede even peace, to say nothing of joy, from rising inside.
These are the souls for whom there is no room in the inn—no room in the comfortable space where everyone streams to congregate, no way into the realm of merry cheer that our culture has established.
It is these souls who are especially invited into the stable.
All through Advent, we’ve been hearing the promises of the Old Testament writers: “The wilderness and the parched land will exult, the desert will rejoice and bloom” (Isaiah 35:1), and a few verses later, “Say to the fearful of heart: Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.” The promised Lord is coming for the parched land, the withered, afflicted places, the fearful of heart who wait in darkness for a rescuer.
Now He is here—and He did not come so that halls could be decked, feasts consumed, lights set to twinkling, or even hymns sung, appropriate as all that may be. He came to become one with His broken, tormented creatures. He came to enter into the entirety of human life, “like us in all things but sin,” to deliver us from sin, from death, and from all the disorders in the world. He came to descend into all of our darkest, most hopeless places, that He might be with us there, our light and strength and life.
Ultimately, He came to raise up our lost humanity to a new life in which every wound, even the deepest, will be healed for good and no evil or pain will ever trouble us again. His Nativity doesn’t bring that about all at once, but it is the beginning of that transformation. It is His promise to us that God’s saving work has begun, that deliverance has arrived, that our God is here among us from now on. We are never alone. He is Emmanuel, “God with us”—He knows and understands everything we experience, and He cares more than we can ever know. His presence in flesh reveals that to us.
If you, then, are one of those who feel only emptiness amid the gaiety of the season, know that the Newborn King, Whose coming we celebrate, is here especially for you. Be strong, do not fear. Here is your God. With divine recompense He comes to save you. You may not be able to feel particularly cheerful, but you can make the choice to believe in His love for you and to accept the gift He offers you of Himself.
Rest in quiet before the Lord in the manger. Lay at His feet all that’s weighing on your heart, as the Magi laid before Him the precious and bitter myrrh. And know that if you have to follow Him from here up the road to Calvary, He will also lead you on beyond the crucifixion to an Easter you can’t even imagine now, one beside which “the sufferings of the present are as nothing” (Romans 8:18). The joy of Christmas is a promise, a bright forerunning glimpse, of that future glory, offered to us to lift up our weary hearts.
I leave you with these excerpts from the great hymn “O Holy Night”:
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn . . .
The King of Kings lay in a lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need,
To our weakness is no stranger.
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