What We Need to Know When Christmas is Hard

December 16, 2013 | 22 comments

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 last candles are blown out. 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 — who’s missing, who’s angry, who’s 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, when 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. It’s God, incarnate.

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 to 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.

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 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.

The banner over the manger? It is this Jesus, kneeling in a garden.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

by | December 16, 2013 | 22 comments


  1. Megan Willome

    Thanks, Jennifer. Yes, this is a a Passion Christmas for us. Betrayal and agony and confusion and suffering. The manger and the cross, side by side (frankly, the way it is depicted in my church). Still, I’m better since Laity.

    • dukeslee

      I remember your empty chair.

  2. ro elliott

    Great words this morning…walking along side some friends whose Christmas is jolly and bright…and sometimes all we can do it hold the candle of hope for another right in their darkest places…so in the dark they can see His light…Emmanuel, God with us!!!

    • dukeslee

      I have friends in both places tonight, and in this season, and so I feel parts of myself in two different kinds of Christmases. And as it should be, I think, as the body of Christ.

    • ro elliott

      Oops …*whose Christmas isn’t jolly and. bright*

  3. rachel lee

    this is powerful. great, powerful words.

    thank you. <3

    • dukeslee

      Grateful for you, Rachel. Merry Christmas.

  4. lauraconnell.com

    What a wonderful comfort to those of us for whom December is difficult. Thank you.

    • dukeslee

      You are welcome, Laura. Thank you for your presence here today.

  5. Lyli Dunbar

    I am so thankful that He is a man of sorrows…. it comforts me.

  6. Beth

    A message I needed today dear friend. This will be such a hard Christmas without my husband here, but I also know it’s a time when He is drawing me closer to Him…and this I find great comfort in.
    Much love to you.

    • dukeslee

      Praying for you tonight, dear Beth. Wish I could hug you in real life.

  7. Mia

    Dear Jennifer
    Yes, we see Christmas through the glitz and glamor of fairy lights, a table laden with a feast of a meal, gifts and so on. But we sometimes forget that this celebrations with all these things are not possible for so many people, who might consider a bar of soap as a great Christmas gift or a little piece of whatever meat as a feast. Then there is also the ones like your friend who has no fond or good memories of Christmas either because of strive in the family.
    Blessings XX

    • dukeslee

      Reading your words tonight, I think of our friends in Haiti. So true, Mia, so true.

      And don’t you think that when we place so much of our hope in the manmade “magic” of Christmas, that when Christmas morning comes, we just sort of look around and think: “Oh. Well… I guess it’s over.” And we’re left deflated. Because even the best kind of manmade Christmas magic can’t live up to what our expectant hearts really need.

  8. Marina Bromley

    Oh. Yes! THIS is my Christmas! I’d be a mess without it… Every year!

    Thank You Lord… For using Jennifer’s words to comfort us…

    Thank you Jennifer, for being obedient to writing them…

    You’re a blessing!

    Merry Christmas!

    • dukeslee

      You’re on my heart this season, Marina. Merry Christmas to you, friend. I’m so glad that God made you, and I’m so glad He crossed our paths.

      • Marina Bromley

        Oh! I’m SO glad we met this year too!! I’d be fine without your friendship, without your words, without your prayers… But my life is SO much richer because of these things!! God bless you!!

  9. Beth

    I’m sitting in tears after reading this. A much needed reminder in a time that should be filled with joy and thankfulness and instead I’m distracted with squabbling family members, dying family members and so much heart ache.

    • dukeslee

      I wish I could reach through the screen and give you a real hug, Beth. For now, parentheses will have to do. (((((Beth))))

      ~ Jennifer

  10. Sherrey Meyer

    The first paragraph is lifted from my life story until I married my present husband and he literally took me away from all that. Except this Christmas, I’m the sister who learned her older brother had a stroke four days later in a casual post by his wife on Facebook. Except this Christmas, I’m the sister who traveled 2200 miles in May and when I fell so ill I couldn’t keep a lunch date with my brothers, they refused to drive 15 minutes to visit with us at the hotel where we were staying. However, and thank you, God for the howevers, God loves me unconditionally. He doesn’t ask what’s in it for Him, He doesn’t ask could I take responsibility for His role in this world — no, He loves me just as I am. For that I am so grateful, and Christmas is by Him for us, all of us, and He will take the rancor and hurt feelings and pained losses and tuck them all away if we just let Him. Thanks for an awesome and timely post!

  11. Holly Solomon Barrett

    Such powerful words, Jennifer. I think we speak of the “trappings” of Christmas sometimes because it feels just like that…like we are trapped into all the stuff and all the emotions that a big holiday are often fraught with. I love that we can just let all that go and revel in the very presence of Jesus. He has truly “stepped off the page and into the heart of it…”


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