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Christmas is big enough for Celebration and Sorrow

It's that time of year again...

Lights are going up, red and green décor adorn our offices, scented candles fill our homes with the aromas of cinnamon or pine, and the PSLs are flowing (that’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes for you non-fancy-coffee drinkers). Three separate delivery drivers visit my house today, and my wife exults that her shopping is nearly done so long before the big day. I privately worry that I won’t be able to find just the right present for my bride, the ultimate champion of gift-giving. This year’s newest holiday song remixes play in every shop, punctuated by Mariah Carrey’s undying classic, and the Jingle-Bell-Rock-singing Santa figurine begins his twenty-sixth season atop my parents’ kitchen counter.

It's that time of year again. It’s Christmas time, and I’m a little sad.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m a little happy too. I’m glad to take a break from work and have some extra family time. I’m honored to lead our church in song through the Advent season. I can’t wait to see the look on my four-year-old son, Tolkien’s, face when he opens the monster truck I got him. But the time that used to be an unadulterated celebration is now seasoned with the bitterness of loss.

Two years ago, at Christmas time, our second son, Obadiah, was born. Three months later, he died. We spent one joy-filled season with our Christmas baby, surrounded by family and lights and scented candles, and then he was gone. The dancing countertop Santa now reminds me of swaying with my son to get him to sleep on Christmas eve. Mariah Carrey sings “all I want for Christmas is you,” and it rings true… All I want for Christmas is to hold my boy again.

A cloud of longing now hangs heavy in front of the star of Bethlehem and obscures the once-clear message of the Christmas season. Shopping, decorating, cooking, and travelling used to be distraction enough from focusing on the reason we celebrate, but throw grief into the mix, and dwelling on the true meaning of Christmas becomes a difficult task indeed.

And so, I preach to myself again. I recite the truth until its light shines brightly enough to pierce the veil of sorrow:

Two thousand years ago, God’s only Son, Jesus, was born. Thirty years later, he died. He spent his earthly life dedicated to purchasing our eternal ones, and, for the joy set before him, endured the punishment we should have gotten. The present God gave us on the first Christmas, the one we still remember every year, was a way back to Himself. Eternal life in the presence of Jesus, our savior.

And you know who else will be there? Obadiah. God, in His grace and infinite love, has already given me exactly what I want for Christmas. Now I just have to practice what I say to my four-year-old: “Be patient. You’ll get your gift on that day. And I promise it will be worth it.”

For some of you, this is a season of light-hearted joy. You anticipate gathering around a table packed with food and drink and family and friends and laughter. For others, it may be a season of pain. You brace for the pointed absence of loved ones; for a table that is not quite as full this year. To each of you, I say this: Do not forget Jesus! The same one for whom we sing “Joy to the World!” said, “Come to me all you weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Yes, he is the reason for the season, but he is our comfort in every season. He is the God who danced at weddings, mourned at funerals, and, indeed, raised the dead. Let us come to him as we are, in celebration or sorrow, and remember the gift of life he has given.

Because of the grace of God I can say:

Merry Christmas to you. May you be filled with hope as you think about forever in the presence of Jesus.

Grace and Peace,

Joe (For the Mayers Family)

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