We’re about three weeks from Christmas, and we haven’t put up any decorations. No garland, no lights (inside or out), no tree, no angels, no stockings. Our house looks about as festive as it did around Labor Day, which is to say that it looks exactly how it has looked on any given day since we took down last year’s decorations.
Becca and I usually pull out all the stops for Christmas. She’s one of those people who pushes the limits of decency and good taste with her inability to wait until after Thanksgiving before Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby start crooning in the kitchen while I hang a wreath on each door, muttering “too soon” under my breath. For my part, I’d rather wait until Advent before we begin the Christmas season in full force—but this year we’re already two days in, and we don’t even have tree cutting scrawled on our calendar yet.
A few days ago, Becca mentioned that she has no desire to decorate for Christmas this year, and I agreed. We’ve had a rough go of things these past several months. Our marriage is in sorry shape—not exactly in the crapper, but definitely more work and less laughter than either of us want or could’ve imagined when we tied the knot. Becca just finished a full-time, three-month teaching gig at a school down the street, which was successful and rewarding and stretched our already thin nerves even thinner. Jack and Ollie are amazing kids, but they’re also difficult and demanding and strong-willed and exhausting and horrible, horrible sleepers. Family drama. Unfulfilled dreams. Sloppy finances. Joyless days. No end in sight. We’re tired and short-tempered and overbooked and distant.
So I agree with Becca: I have no desire to decorate for Christmas this year. But I need it more than ever before. I need Christmas. Not Christmas lights and decorations and presents and celebrations and ham around the dinner table, but Christmas proper: stars and stables and prophecies fulfilled; shepherds and angels and a virgin birth; the great, glorious, unimaginable condescension of God himself into our dark, cold nights; the good news of Immanuel—God with us.
Saint Paul wrote that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is futile and “we are of all people most to be pitied.” And if this is true of Christ being lifted from the tomb on the third day, then it is also true of Christ being lifted from a stable floor in Joseph’s bloodied hands on a lonely, desperate night in Bethlehem. If this didn’t happen—if God did not burst into history to meet us in our pain and sadness—then there is no hope for any of us.
It is here, in the midst of our pain, where Christ has always stepped into the darkness before dawn. We forget that his arrival was heralded by a chorus of angels and the sound of weeping and loud lamentation as Herod’s soldiers slaughtered innocent babes. He has come into the chaos and mess of our lives and there in the storm he speaks his words of peace, his good news of great joy for all people, his tidings of comfort and joy.
I’m currently listening to Jason Gray’s excellent Christmas album, and there’s a line from one of his songs, “Rest (The Song Of The Inkeeper),” that gets at how I’ve been feeling this Christmas season: “Like a drowning man in the open sea, I need somebody to rescue me. I need rest.” My Advent prayer this year is for rescue and rest, peace and joy—not the passing joy of holiday feelgoodery, but the joy of the incarnate Christ. I pray, and hope, and wait. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!