“Christmas seems to have snuck up on me this year.”
I have heard that from more than one person over the last few days.
Maybe it was not quite having all the presents wrapped (or even purchased), or just not being ready to deal with family parties or work gatherings or ornament swaps with friends. For our family, Christmas comes just two weeks after moving into a new house, so most of the boxes around our Christmas tree are just things we haven’t unpacked yet.
It seems that Christmas just caught a lot of us off guard this year.
When we unwrapped the story of the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve with Pastor Matt, we found that it has always been that way. Ready or not, God invades our world by way of an ordinary girl in an ordinary town leading an ordinary life.
A pregnant teenage girl and her fiancé were not ready for what lay ahead of them when they got to Bethlehem, and they found themselves becoming parents in the most inauspicious of beginnings. Without a place to stay for the night, she delivers their son among the livestock.
Mary and Joseph were not ready for Christmas.
As I prepared and practiced the songs to be sung at worship for Christmas Eve, I was excited to see that Jeff Greunke had selected one of my favorite Christmas songs, I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day, as arranged by Casting Crowns. This rendition of a classic song based on the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is filled with the angst and conflict and emotion that surround this day.
You see, Longfellow wrote his poem about the church bells in his town when he was facing a holiday season in the midst of his own personal grief. Having just received word that his son had been severely wounded in the Civil War, and the death of his dear wife in a fire, Longfellow was not ready to face the joy of the season. How could he hear the bells ring in the coming of the savior, when the searing pain of loss and despair rang even louder in his ears.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was not ready for Christmas.
However, as I sang the song on Saturday night, I could not help but feel a personal connection to the words in a way I haven’t before. This year is different.
A few weeks ago, I received a call about a tragedy in our family. The son of my cousin had passed away suddenly. Michael was only 10 years old.
At the funeral, my family gathered to mourn with my cousin Jeannette, her husband John, and Michael’s older sister Grace. Words failed us. What comfort could we possibly offer that would even begin to explain why this happened? This was a loss that no mother should ever have to endure, a loss that Jesus’ mother would experience as well.
“And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said.”
As I sang the words in worship at Christmas Eve, my thoughts went to my cousin and her family gathered around their tree and the gifts that will remain unopened. Fighting through the song now, I became overcome by their unimaginable loss, and began to get choked up.
My cousin and her family are not ready for Christmas.
What really did me in was what I sang next.
“Then ringing singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day.”
Even in the shadow of grief, Longfellow recognized the hope that the birth of Jesus brings. Leaning into the promises of God and clinging to the cross, he remembers that all is not lost.
“The wrong shall fail and right prevail. With peace on Earth. Goodwill to men.”
When God comes into our darkness, the darkness flees. Yes, we mourn, we hurt, we struggle to make sense of a world that is unfair and chaotic. But through His son Jesus, we find comfort, healing, justice and peace.
I was not ready for Christmas.
And next year won’t be much different. I will see the date looming as I try in vain to prepare the way for His coming, but be thankful for the reminder that it was always meant to be that way.
Jesus comes into our broken and messy lives not because we’re ready, but precisely because we’re not.