“…’Tis the season to be jolly….” So goes the popular Christmas carol. My observation and experience, as well as a good body of research, indicate that this is also the season for stress, sadness, and depression.
In the Gospel of Luke, we hear the proclamation of the angel: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” So how does the joy get lost in the celebration?
It seems to me that when the Christmas season does not meet our expectations, it is often because we feel that we don’t meet its expectations. Perfectly chosen gifts, beautifully wrapped and placed artistically around a fragrant, fresh Christmas tree. A clean, beautifully decorated house filled with the aroma of spiced cider and freshly-baked cookies. A cozy, glowing fireplace that mirrors the warmth of the season. Christmas carols sung by the piano, in four-part harmony, of course. Warm gatherings with family and friends, free of conflict and tension. Days filled with smiles and laughter. A Christmas letter with nary a struggle or failure. Wonderful new memories to add to old ones. And, finally, the boundless energy required to energetically and enthusiastically participate in all the festivities.
The first Christmas was anything but worthy of a modern-day Christmas card. Jesus was born in a dirty stable to parents exhausted by a long trip. The Promised Land had been overrun by the Roman Empire and God’s people were impoverished and oppressed. My guess is that Christmas cookies were in short supply. And yet the event was lit by the light of stars of heaven and announced by a host of angels.
The good news ushered in by Christmas is that we no longer need to worry about meeting expectations. The whole point of Jesus’s coming to earth is that we cannot meet expectations, most importantly God’s requirement of holiness. Jesus came to save us from our sins and our sinful nature. He came to redeem our fallen world that is reflected in jammed shopping malls, gifts that don’t fit, wrapping paper shredded by cats, Christmas trees that tumble into windows, burnt cookies, and the ache of memories of abuse and broken relationships.
Jesus came to earth to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: to make us right before God and to prepare us for an eternity in which all expectations have been met. In the meantime, may the hurts, stresses, and frustrations of the season become a traditional part of our celebration as they remind us that Christmas is not about our meeting expectations but about Christ coming to meet all expectations on our behalf.