There’s no way to make Christmas feel like Christmas.
No way to force the magic and wholeness that is felt some years and not so much others. I know this truth, for real, for the first time in my life this year. And in some ways I suppose that makes me very lucky–here I am, the dawn of my 40th year approaching, and it’s the first time that Christmas is…less than, I suppose…for me.
This is the first year in several, too, that I haven’t practiced a daily writing habit across the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I can feel my soul hurting for it. Next year, right?
What makes Christmas, anyway? Is it presents? Is it music? Is it being with the very people you love most? Is it Grandma’s cranberry salad or your aunt’s to-die-for fudge? Is it grandchildren frisking through the house or your family dog sitting just so at your feet? Is it a solo version of “O Holy Night” that soars nigh unto the heavens so much that your heart swells and tears dim your vision?
Is it all these things? And yet, somehow, more…that we cannot name?
I don’t know. What I do know is that as I sit with family on this night, having lived through a tremendous year of change, I think perhaps I’m learning what Christmas is really all about. Whether I even realize it yet or not.
Because here’s the thing–at the core of this night is a story that I’ve staked my life on. Tied my very hopes to and given a great deal of my life to living out as best I can (though I can assure you I fall short on a regular and painful basis).
And that story has nothing to do with presents or fudge or music or even life being just as we hoped it would. It has everything to do, though, with promise–promise that no matter what grief or pain or uncertainty we’re living with this Christmas, we do not live with it alone.
People often ask me why I love winter, why December is my favorite time of year–it’s cold and dark and grey. Miserable, some days. Bleak.
But y’all, it is only in such bleakness that real hope is possible. And so says my very favorite of all Christmas songs:
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
(In the Bleak Midwinter)
Because whether we’re ready…or feel the spirit…or have made it just as we’ve always had it…or are where we want to be…or are with who we want to be with–despite all these things the story happens anyway. Unexpected. Not as we’d plan it or produce it. Unlike anything else entirely.
Still…and always…God comes among us in least likely of ways, making known a sort of Love that is capable of shaping us into all we’re meant to be. Capable of taking all that has gotten us to this point and molding it into a “what will be” that most days we can’t even imagine.
Hope is a choice. And this night, because my faith has always told me to do so, I’m choosing it. And I’m doing so with joy and love and wonder at all that is good in my life, all that is possible in this world God’s given us. And I’m trusting that such hope matters.
I’m trusting it matters for a friend missing a grandson tonite. For another friend missing a father. For my own weary heart. For Pakistani children, for murdered cops and gunned down kids, for the stolen daughters of Nigeria, for rage simmering beneath the realities of poverty and disease and heartbreak, for all that is so terribly broken in this beautiful world…I’m trusting it matters.
For all of us.