I grieve every Christmas. I miss my dad the most this time of year. His birthday is the 29th of December and he almost lived to 60, but then he didn’t. He died a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, eight years ago. Grief always seemed so out of place with Christmas fast approaching.
I believed it was somehow ungrateful to approach Christmas and the gift of a Savior and King with anything less than unbridled joy. It seemed cheap and flimsy to admit that in the merriment and festivities there was an ache and a void. I wasn’t raised with the traditions of Advent. We entered December bent on celebration.
It seemed wrong to say that although I worship a God who would humble himself and abandon heaven to come small and poor and weak to give me life, I still feel small and poor and weak in my life.
It’s as if I was rejecting the gift of Jesus when I could still feel the sharp edges of this desperate world pressing in.
I want the Kingdom promised. I want to see it poured out in more than tidily wrapped gifts and strung bows, hymns on bowed lips, and the warmth and flicker of our fireplace. I want it to be more than obligation and striving, pretense and comfort.
I want it to be peace and shalom in the places where hearts and bodies are rent and weary, depressed and lonely, sick and suffering. I want to see a world met, songs sung in every tongue, and no one cold. And it’s not that, not yet.
Grief is most present when I celebrate.
We live incomplete. Often the void calls out and tinges the edges of every carol, every sticky candy-cane lipped smile. We wrap ourselves in Hallmark movies with happy endings and wish for Christmas miracles; we feel the fraud when we hurt this much at Christmas. The scrooge who somehow hasn’t harnessed the magical power of the Messiah and positive self-talk.
I hear the joy of the Christmas carols sung cheerily by red-cheeked children, fresh from stomping new patterns in the snow, hands cupped around mugs of cocoa while their discarded snow clothes lay dripping in a pile by the back door.
I sense the wonderment they feel when the white lights twinkle on our tree, and I laugh remembering the cluster of ornaments my kids always placed directly at eye level in one spot. I’ll see a glimpse and flicker of beauty, a foreshadowing of perfect things. And I’ll whisper thanks because they are a gift, but they are not the Giver.
Soon the wrapping paper will be piled up, long torn with bows undone. The bustling calendar and last minute runs to the store, the cookie exchanges, and parties, the get-togethers will rest in the aftermath of Christmas Day. And even when you’ve done it all, something is missing.
Or maybe you had to work extra shifts because that was the only way to put a present under the tree for your little ones. You may be stretched so thin just to see them tear into the paper and you wish you could give them a world where the lack wasn’t always so present. You may be balancing your checkbook and eyeing your timecard hoping it works out while bills pile up and your hours get cut. Why is December always the longest month with the least money?
Why does living in this world cost us so much?
You may be surrounded by family and friends or you may be all alone today. You may not know which one is better.
You may have done all the dishes or let them sit in the sink. You may wish you had the energy to keep it clean and together, but you find yourself collapsing on the couch while your energy sags into the cushions.
You may feel the talons of depression sinking into your flesh, grasping hold of you, carving you up while you wish so ravenously to feel the joy, to feel the hope. You may be going through the motions for your kids, your husband, your roommate, or coworkers.
You may carry weariness in every chain of your DNA.
You may have been running toward Christmas or limping along, but you’re almost there and still something is missing. The grief inhabits the celebrations. It’s something that no amount of holly and gift wrap and tinsel can fill.
So sit with it. This is Advent. The season where we feel the weight of our humanity, the magnitude of our weariness, the lost bits of our soul. We reckon with a world not as it should yet be.
If this is you today, be gentle with yourself.
It’s easy to feel the exhale and letdown of this season and realize you’re holding your breath. You are pushing to make it something special. You are filling the void. You are making the memories. You are creating beauty and moments to pause and give thanks. Or you aren’t and it’s been nagging at you that you haven’t done enough to be grateful, to serve, to give, to rejoice properly.
It’s easy to look at the weeks of Advent and think of the anticipation building. It’s easy to look around today and see something is missing no matter what you do, or read, or meditate on.
The Kingdom of God promised with our Savior is both here at hand and also not yet.
We live in the longing. We are met and yet yearn. We are filled and yet hunger and thirst. We celebrate and we grieve. We are a people whose Savior has come and yet we wait with anticipation still. And the waiting is long, we get tired.
The weary world rejoices but sometimes the weariness remains long through the praise. So be extra gentle with yourself today as we wait. We know this: we do not wait alone. Unto us a Savior is born.