Celebrating Christmas when the world doesn’t feel right

A reflection by Lindsey

This year I have found myself thinking a lot about why we observe Christmas. So much in the world feels terribly wrong, and it’s hard to see God at work in any of it. I marked much of Advent hoping to see what would happen to Sarah’s vertigo after Sarah had ear surgery. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a location where one could feel more helpless than waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery. I found myself constantly reflecting that Sarah’s surgeon is an expert in the field who knows exactly what to expect and what to do as different things arise. Trying to distract myself wasn’t the most effective, and I found myself keeping a prayerful vigil throughout the procedure.

A lot was wrong on that particular Advent day. Sarah was in surgery. A friend’s Christian parents had given him a week’s notice that he was no longer welcome in their home. These parents had reasoned that it was inappropriate for Christians to shelter a person who “identified” as gay. Ferguson protesters decried police brutality while simultaneously seeking some recourse for the family of Michael Brown. I found myself dealing with all sorts of crazy emotions while looking at the sea of humanity gathered in that hospital waiting room. Many times, I couldn’t help but think, “Stop the world! I’d like to get off!”

Enter Christmas.

I think there’s a big temptation to look at Christmas as the day everything changed. Christmas is supposed to be the day where the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Christmas is supposed to be the day where we experience Christ as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace. But, still Christmas remains amid some rather incredible darkness. Christ was born, yet Herod still ordered the slaughter of the innocents. Christ was born, yet Joseph still lead his family into hiding.

In the microcosm of my own world, Christmas arrived this year with Sarah enduring more vertigo attacks, the two of us beginning the difficult process of seeking a new local church home, and a friend getting a call to report immediately to a hospital for further medical testing. I have watched as others have lost jobs, homes, and loved ones. I continue to be more aware than ever that the American justice system needs serious reform. There are structural levels of injustice in society that manifest in all sorts of -isms such as racism, ableism, and classism. The world is broken.

Isn’t it supposed to be Christmas?

As a Christian, I find myself hoping and longing for the day when everything is truly set right again. I want to see that day when tears, death, crying, pain, and illness pass away. After all, has it not been proclaimed that we should “behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away”? I can’t help but notice that I’m longing for the Second Coming of Christ even as I remember his first coming.

Until the Second Coming, I note that the only thing I can do is opt into remaining present. Being present can be exceptionally mundane. I didn’t expect to have a Christmas Day full of doing laundry while waiting for Sarah’s vertigo to subside. I don’t think anyone expects spending the Christmas season by keeping vigil over a dying loved one or visiting gravesides. I can’t imagine experiencing the Christmas season huddling with my friends and family in a war zone. There are many ministries of presence.

Christmas challenges us to value presence. As a baby lying in a manger, Christ could do very little to “fix” the world. He had made deliberate choices to empty himself of divine power. He became one of us to proclaim, “God is with us.” As an engineer, I find that admitting there’s very little I can do to “fix” the world is hard for me. I’d love to make Sarah’s vertigo disappear, but I know that’s not within my skill set. My skills look even more paltry against the larger problems plaguing people around the world. Yet, this Christmas I’m seeing that maybe there’s a kind of power present in just saying, “I am with you.”

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8 thoughts on “Celebrating Christmas when the world doesn’t feel right

  1. Thanks for this, Lindsey. I love the way it culminates in the realization “that I’m longing for the Second Coming of Christ even as I remember his first coming.” That is actually a perfectly legitimate focus of Advent! The so-called Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” is really about the Second Coming (“No more let sins and sorrows grow…”), and thus is an Advent hymn. The Advent greeting that my church uses (and, being Protestant, I’m not sure of its exact pedigree) looks both back to the First Coming and forward to the Second:
    “Christ has come.”
    “And he will come again.”
    Hang in there, and keep leaning on Christ and each other.

    • Matt, thanks. I had never considered to the way Joy to the World connects to the Second Coming. Western hymnography requires looking at all the verses. In “What Child is This?” there are some incredibly clear references to the cross with lyrics of “Nails, spears shall pierce him through.” I hadn’t heard that particular Advent greeting before. Thanks for sharing! -Lindsey

  2. I have to repeat what others have said thank you for this piece Lindsey. I feel like for me I will have to come back and reflect on this more so in the future. Sometimes certain relfections and advice aren’t for the present but rather for the future

    • Thanks for your comment. There are certainly years when I’ve needed to read the joyous Christmas messages and other years when I’ve benefited from more somber reflections. Feel free to read and engage this piece whenever the time is right for you! -Lindsey

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