She sat next to me in the wooden pew, with her head bowed, after everyone had filed out the glass doors. She told me how Christmas is the hardest time of all–
How her extended family can’t manage to sit down for one blessed meal without a conflict erupting over the table. How arguments break out, well before the plates are cleared. How the smell of ham always reminds her of a dozen Christmas gatherings gone wrong and cut off abruptly.
She’s wringing her hands on her lap. Sunday-morning sunlight filters through stained glass windows, a series of images depicting the life of Jesus. Sitting here, we’re surrounded by the face of Hope, but Hope feels so ethereal when some of us imagine the reality of our own Christmases. It’s ten days til Christmas, but we know who will be missing, who will be depressed, who will be angry, who will be glaring at who over the water goblets.
For some, hope feels entombed in the stained glass, unreachable in the Christmas pageant, untouchable in the Hallmark commercial. It can feel like real hope is incapable of jumping off the page of a hymnal and into a human heart.
This Christmas, countless widows will look down the long table at empty chairs. Somewhere in this world, parents have already wrapped presents for a child who didn’t survive to see another Christmas.
The world is a rancorous, tear-stained place, and you might think is looks a bit like Narnia, where it was “always winter, but never Christmas.”
But behold: Your real Christmas. Not the one at the candlelit table. Not the one you want to put on Instagram, but the one that actually offers you everything for your heart, not your stocking. Look at it: Christmas is a chaotic, messy, holy, no-room-for-you-in-inn, born-in-a-barn event. Imagine the pain of labor. The itch of hay. The stench of beast. This is God, incarnate, coming into your broken world, into your broken heart.
Christmas is Jesus, saying the unflinching YES for you:
“Yes, I will leave the comfort of Heaven for a life filled with heartache and pain and my very own death on a cross.”
This is the passion of your Christ.
Christmas has been singing this song since the beginning of time:
Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
Jesus is stepping straight out of the history of forever, straight off the pages of Scripture, and straight into your broken Narnia winter.
He is the central figure in the only religion with a God who empathizes with you. This God not only loves you, but He likes you — and He crossed the cosmos to come for you.
Watch now. Watch how Jesus understands you. Listen, how He prays for you.
See how Jesus understands you in your bent-over grief this Christmas. Watch how Jesus shows up at the tomb of a friend. And He weeps. Like you weep.
Watch how your Savior knows what it means to be misunderstood, to have your relatives think you’re “out of your mind.”
Maybe you’ve been betrayed this year. Jesus understand the depth of our betrayal in ways that most of us could never comprehend.
And you, the one feeling pain and agony? Watch him in the garden.
Maybe you feel weak, unable to pray. See how Christ prays for you, and how His Spirit intercedes on your behalf.
This is actual Christmas — not Norman Rockwell Christmas, or Hallmark Channel Christmas, or Pinterest Christmas.
Are you broken this season? Is your marriage on the rocks? Your sanity on the brink? Your checkbook teetering on the last dollar? Kneel before Emmanuel, God with us. He gets you.
Jesus put skin on more than 2,000 years ago, and He gets pain. He’s saying to you, “I can help you through. My name is Emmanuel, and that name doesn’t mean “God on the outskirts.” It means “God, bending down to be with you.”
Your Christmas might be a holly-jolly Christmas, or it might be the bluest of blue Christmases, but no matter what kind you have, Jesus is the only part of it that will ever be unchanging and utterly life-saving. He has stepped off the page and into the heart of it, into the heart of you.
Emmanuel, God with us.
This is Jesus, humbling Himself by forfeiting heaven,
to put skin on,
to become a barn-born baby,
to feel your hurt,
to understand the betrayal,
to grieve your grief,
to collect your tears,
to walk up the hill,
so that when you behold your own Christmas tree, you know He willingly hung on His.