©2016 Lynn Abbott
After my mom died in 2008, I dragged myself though the necessary notifications to banks, retirement boards, and credit card companies.
With each visit or phone call, I painstakingly explained my purpose.
One customer service representative stopped me mid-sentence.
She immediately expressed her sympathy, and explained that she had lost her mother just 1 1/2 years before.
“Beware, because grief’s a funny thing, “she said. “It kinda sneaks up on you when you don’t expect it.”
Holidays, she further acknowledged, had been the most difficult. She related her experience: she seemed to be doing rather well, returning to normal life. She stopped at the local supermarket to pick up items on her Christmas grocery list.
As she stood in the produce department examining oranges, the unthinkable happened. One of the oranges began to tumble to the floor, causing a sheer avalanche of orange.
She stooped to pick up the fruit, and at that moment, a torrent of tears broke loose. Hurriedly, another woman left her cart, and ran to help.
“It’s okay,” the woman encouraged, “Don’t worry about the oranges.”
My new friend recalled her own response. “It’s not about the stupid oranges,” she blurted.
And it wasn’t.
In fact, it usually isn’t.
For many, tension during the Christmas season frequently runs so much deeper than a foiled “to do” list.
I don’t know quite why, but it seems to me that during a season filled with all things that glitter, sparkle and shine, human hearts become more fragile. In my humble opinion, an avalanche of heartbreak threatens too many people.
Instead of being wrapped by joy and peace, many find themselves stumbling through anxiety, fear, grief, and confusion And with each day, it is simply enough to put one foot in front of the other or to stumble through the numerous holiday events.
Perhaps, you have periodically found yourself in such a place. Quite honestly, I’ve been there on several occasions.
Such darkness, in moments like these, seems all the more overwhelming since it contrasts sharply with our Christmas card-expectations.
When our post boxes are filled with annual letters enumerating joys and triumph’s of our friends and family; when Christmas movies and television specials deliver warm, fuzzy images of love, happiness and plenty, it seems a cruel twist of life that anyone should grieve, suffer heartbreak or live through tragedy.
And so we strive to create a season of beauty; to warm the winter of the soul. It is, after all, a season of hope and miracles.
Funny that. We scramble to grocery shop, bake, gift wrap, and recreate that perfect Christmas setting when actually, the first Christmas had little resemblance to those cozy, Dickensian, fireside images that we hold so dear.
Luke 2 unfolds during a dark time in the life of Israel. The golden years of David and Solomon were distant memories.
Yahweh had been silent for 400 years. The heroic era of the Maccabees had come and gone, and now a pagan empire once again oppressed Israeli freedom. For God’s people, the times were uncertain.
You could say that George Orwell’s concept of “Big Brother” generally fit their situation. Rome kept a close watch and demanded a census.
For this reason, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. All were to be accounted for, and exorbitant taxes would be required. The mighty Roman empire must be financed.
Of course, there are no accidents with God. God times everything for His purpose.
Even the Christ’s birth announcement to a group of rag-tag shepherds reflects that moment in Israel’s history. Significantly, the shepherds “were keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Israel’s glory days had passed; night had settled.
However, despite the darkness, despite God’s seeming silence, the messenger came.
God’s glory shattered the night sky and brought good news to men who fulfilled lowly tasks within the enormous empire.
The shepherds actually may have been most crushed by those in power. They were poor and of low social standing. They sat in fields on the outskirts of society. They had little hope for a better life.
In Roman culture, they were all but forgotten men: vulnerable and practically invisible. Their world was certainly dark.
While wealth is not an issue for the Magi, their inclusion in Matthew’s account of Christ’s birth reflects another kind of darkness. These wise men sought truth; God’s revelation had gone dark. There had not been a prophet in Israel for a very long time.
The age was dark. And the Magi followed a bright start in order to seek and find “the Way, the Truth and the Light,” (John 14:6).
Yes, Abba thinks of everything. He arranged every detail to herald the coming of the Light of the World, (John 1: 1-12). And lest we miss the symbolic significance of light and darkness in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel narratives, God inspired John to open his account with the words, “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness…” (John 1:4-5).
And through our Christmas candles and electric lights, God’s truth has found its way into contemporary culture. And who doesn’t enjoy all the sparkle?
My son particularly loves driving through neighborhoods during the month of December; we all relish Christmas light displays.
In order to fully appreciate the beauty of our neighbors’ holiday decor, we bundle up and make our tour after the sun has set. Obviously, Christmas lights do not shine as brilliantly in daylight.
And so it is with life. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The shadow proves the sunshine.”
In other words, when our days are darkest, we most clearly see the Light of the World.
That’s the way it works. When all seems lost, when heartbreak oppresses, our Savior shines.
He is the Lamp for our feet and the Light for our path (Psalm 119:105). And His grace leads us safely home.
Christmas isn’t really about picture-postcard moments. It’s the story of God’s Light overcoming darkness.
It’s about God’s promise to crush the serpent, to defeat death, and to cast out the darkness that daily attempts to deliver heartbreak and fear to His beloved children.
For this reason, any pressure we may feel to paint the perfect Christmas dissolves in God’s love and grace. You and I don’t have to pretend that all is well with the world.
In fact, just as Lewis writes, recognizing the darkness doesn’t detract from but rather highlights our hope in Christ.
Thankfully, we don’t have to create a picture perfect holiday. Instead, Abba wants you and I to bring our heartbreak, our fear, our confusion and our hopelessness to him… especially at Christmas.
Thus, we lay our Frankincense and Myrrh–burial spices and grief–before the King of Kings. He desires just one gift– our hearts… as fractured and shattered as they may be.
Our days may not always be “merry” but Abba has promised, “I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do And I will not leave them undone,” (Isaiah 42:16).
Of course, for some, this Christmas season, may truly be “merry and bright.” And I am so glad.
But if darkness does close in, we need only recall that first Christmas. And find comfort in this: it may be night, but the Good Shepherd promises to keep watch over His flock.
In the midst of darkness, He proclaims good news of great joy: the Light of the world has not only come but He has also overcome.
He whispers, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).
It isn’t about arranging a beautiful spread of food or finding the perfect gift; it isn’t dependent upon my efforts to create a season to remember.
Rather, when the avalanche threatens you and me, Christ shines bright. Jesus came to inaugurate Abba’s season of infinite grace. Jesus heals the sick, binds the broken, comforts the grieving, and loves the prodigal.
Nevertheless, Christmas celebrates the coming of the Light, the hope of every nation.
Yes, God’s attention to detail–His choice of setting for His great salvation story–reminds me that despite any heartbreak this world may bring, the Promised One will illuminate the lives of His children.
And His Light overcomes all darkness.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, And freedom to prisoners… To comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting…” ~Isaiah 61:1-3a
“Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life,'”~ John 8:12
” Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you,” Isaiah 60: 1-2