In years past I have often found that as Christmas drew near my heart harkened to one tune, one theme, one thought, more than others. There was the Christmas before we moved overseas to Prague. I could not escape the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. That year was all about family and friends. It was all about small connections and moments gathered around the fire. We were excited as we prepared for the adventure of living in Europe, but I also found myself feeling very sentimental that year.
“Here we are as in olden days, Happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are dear to us Gather near to us once more. Through the years We all will be together, If the Fates allow Hang a shining star upon the highest bough. And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
The Christmas after we moved to Prague my vision was big and grand and my heart was aching for a wide world wrapped in brokenness and sin. I had traveled often when younger and had been on a few missions trips - I had seen poverty, but I had never seen sin as blatantly as I saw it in Prague. That Christmas I wrote this blog post:
“At advent we can say in honesty the world is not right, our own lives are not right, but God will make it so. We do more than wish for peace on earth and good-will to men, we claim it as a promise of God. Christ has come and is coming and in that we can hope that all will be make right.”
My song for that year was Good King Wenceslas - which tells the story of the Czech saint braving the winter winds and snow to invite a poor hungry man to dinner.
The year after that was the year that the darkness in Prague began to encroach on my heart. I wrote a lot about darkness and light that year. This post in particular spells out my thoughts on that Christmas theme. That year it was all about the star of bethlehem for me. Christmas was all about light breaking into darkness.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
The Christmas after that was my first Christmas as a new mom and I thought often of Mary. The following Christmas the theme of light and darkness returned as we said a difficult goodbye to some of our closest friends in Prague. Then there was the year we moved back to Seattle just before Christmas and Christmas felt like a whirlwind I wasn’t ready to enter into.
And then there was last Christmas. Last Christmas felt magical somehow. It was small and intimate with Bryan’s family, but it felt so full and we felt richly surrounded by friends and family near and far. It was the first Christmas we had after Bryan’s cancer diagnosis and there was a preciousness to it - a holding on to each moment. We were literally showered in gifts - more and nicer gifts then we felt we deserved. We spent lots of time cuddling together and watching our children laugh and play with toys. If there was any theme that year it had more to do with the tenderness shared between family than anything else.
But, this year…oh this year.
I keep trying to remind myself that it is Christmas. I keep trying to get in the spirit. I hung Christmas lights around Bryan’s window. I tacked stockings to the wall. And taped up a poster that says “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” in the hopes that it would call me to remember the real reason for rejoicing at this time of year. I keep trying to focus on the simple story of a baby born to a virgin, God become flesh. But, it just doesn’t hold anything for me this year.
I see the decorations and it just makes me heart ache.
Today as I walked through the lobby of the hospital I saw a mother and her two young children enter. They were carrying a box of treats and the little girl wore antlers on her head. Were they going to visit their daddy? They stopped and took a picture in front of the large Christmas tree and I started to cry. I thought of my own children, so far away preparing to board a plane for Grandma’s house, and my arms ached to hold them.
I know that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus coming into the world, the savior who I need so desperately - He is come! But, somehow that celebration feels empty without family. Sitting in a hospital room as my husband tries to sleep off his most recent dose of Interluekin 2, well, it just doesn’t feel much like Christmas.
Today I read Henry Longfellow's poem “I Hear the Bells on Christmas Day”
I hear the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men! …. And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said; ‘For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’ Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, The right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.’
And I couldn’t fight back the tears. Sometimes it feels as if God is dead. Sometimes it feels as if God sleeps. It is hard for me to celebrate the birth of a savior who has come in the midst of a deep need for a savior to come to me now. There are a lot of people suffering in a hospital like this. I have never seen my husband so weak or so sick.
I feel no resonance with the baby born long ago in a manger, because what I need right now, in my pain, in my fear, in my suffering, is not a baby, but a King. I need a King who is not dead. Who does not sleep. I need a God who will break through the silent night.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of they only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
“A thrill of hope, The weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. … The King of Kings lay thus In lowly manger, In all our trials Born to be our Friend! He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger; Behold your King! Before the lowly bend! Behold your King! Your King! Before Him bend.”
Perhaps a King is not what I really want. Perhaps a King is exactly what I have. A king who demands me to bend. A king who gently but sternly takes me down roads I would rather not travel. A king who saves me but asks in return for all of me. Not because he is cruel, but because he is infinitely more loving than I will ever understand.
“His law is love and His gospel is peace. … And in His name All oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in Grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us Praise His holy name! Christ is the Lord, Oh praise His name forever, His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim”
And so for me this Christmas will not be about stockings or singing Christmas carols. It will not be about time spent making memories with family or baking Christmas cookies. It will not be about presents wrapped under a tree. It will not even be about a baby in a manger.
For me this Christmas will be about bending my knee to the King of Kings. It will be about coming as a helpless child, with all my heartache and lack of understanding, before the eternal child who is the light of the world, the hope of all mankind. It will be about praising his name in the darkness and proclaiming his power and glory in all things. Proclaiming with the bells that “God is not dead. Nor doth he sleep.”
Rejoicing in the journey,