A lot has been happening in Sergei’s life recently that’s been breaking my heart on his behalf. Every defensive and protective impulse in me (and I’ve got a lot) has been aching to shield him but that’s neither appropriate nor possible. All I can really do is pray. I’ve been doing lots of praying. Still, the timing for this heartache makes it all the more devastating, in my opinion.
I’ll admit, I’m a romantic. I strongly believe that the Christmas season is sacred. It should be set apart as a time of year that is especially delightful. Full of delicious food, lovely decorations, awkward/enjoyable gatherings, last minute shopping and, most of all, gift giving and great conversations (my two favorite things). It’s a time when those we love and those who love us are meant to draw near to us. Not withdraw. It’s not supposed to be lonely or dreary or sad. Maybe a little stressful, frantic and tiring. But not depressing.
I know Sergei isn’t the only one who may have a less than magical holiday season. For many people, this is the most depressing time of year. That never strikes me as less than tragic. All I can really say is that it shouldn’t be, with a sort of childlike innocence as if I could make right what is wrong through that simple declaration. If only I could.
In Gilead the narrator John Ames states, “Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true. ‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’ It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.” It feels necessary to repeat, that is exactly what will be required. Sometimes I wish that I could wipe the tears from all faces.
This isn’t the first Christmas season that I’ve meditated on the brokenness of the world. Last year, I followed up the holiday with my post Why Hasn’t Oppression Ceased? as I found myself dwelling on words from “O Holy Night.” But there was a greater emotional remove. There is a profound difference between the compassion you can feel for nameless people and the compassion you feel for someone in your life. Especially when you’re as fiercely protective as I am.
Re-reading the nativity stories, I’ve been reminded that the Christmas story itself has a bittersweet quality. Not long after the Magi leave Jesus, Matthew tells us “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” In Luke, when baby Jesus is first presented at the temple, Mary is warned that a sword will piece her own heart. A prophesy I’ve always taken to foreshadow both that she’ll be pieced with conviction by her son’s teachings and heartbroken by his death.
I came across a quote from Tim Keller’s book Reason for God about Jesus’ ministry that aptly applies to our hope at Christmas time as well. He states, “Jesus’ miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce. You never see him say something like ‘See that tree over there? Watch me make it burst into flames!” Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’ miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.”
Isn’t this promise to heart what we are really singing about at Christmas? We are longing for heaven and nature to sing praise in unison for a world without loss or loneliness. Without sickness or death. At this time of year we celebrate love, joy and peace not only because they are so scarce but because they are a foretaste of what we’re looking forward to.
While I’m inclined to be more like John Ames in Gilead, both in awe of this world and groaning with it for healing and restoration, I’m finding myself more resolved than ever to spread holiday cheer this season. I cannot single-handedly save this world, or shoulder anyone else’s suffering (as much as I might like to), I can bless others by being loving, joyful and giving.* By living into the promise of a new world. That itself offers some comfort.
*As someone for whom gifts is one of my primary love languages, I don’t underestimate the value of a thoughtful/playful gift.