I can think of many holiday seasons where the idea of baking cookies, watching snow fall, hanging lights, and listening to holiday music felt nothing but appropriate. I’ve also lived through holiday seasons and am currently experiencing one right now that doesn’t feel holly or jolly. The glitz and the glimmer at times feel like they are actively assaulting my soul, taunting me with triteness, reminding me of things I wish weren’t true of my life and circumstances. It’s true that grief doesn’t just surface in places like the doctor’s office or a cemetery. It can lay dormant waiting to pounce in the checkout isle of Target or during a seemingly benign conversation with a coworker. Christmas can trigger nostalgic joy and happy anticipation. It can also trigger a season of amplified loneliness and grief. It can remind us that our life doesn’t measure up to a Norman Rockwell Christmas card or even our own more realistic expectations.
My heart is heavy this holiday season. My days feel anything but merry and bright. I feel like decking my halls in sackcloth. Bearing the weight of deep sadness, disappointment, and fear my lips struggle to mouth the words of the songs my soul desperately needs on Sunday mornings. Sometimes it feels as though I expend more energy fighting tears than anything else right now.
In this season of giving thanks, I’m reminded that even in my pain there is much to be grateful for. Towards the top of my list is a season called Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” It’s an opportunity to reflect on the humble birth of Christ and the anxious wait of His return in glory. It’s a reminder that we live in between the comings of Christ, the already, but the not yet. During this season, we are reminded that waiting, longing, and angst are very much a part of the Christian life. Just as God’s people and prophets groaned and ached for the Messiah hundreds of years ago, we too groan and ache for Christ to return and make everything sad come untrue.
In his book What Jesus Demands from the World, John Piper writes,
When Jesus demands that we rejoice, he has not forgotten the kind of world we live in. It is filled with suffering…For Jesus the demand for joy is a way to live with suffering and to outlast suffering. Therefore, this joy is serious. It’s the kind you fight for by cutting off your hand (Matt. 5:30) and selling your possessions (Matt. 13:44) and carrying a cross with Jesus to Calvary (Matt. 10:38-39). It has scars. It sings happy songs with tears. It remembers the dark hours and knows that more are coming. The road to heaven is a hard road, but it is not joyless.
Much of this quote reflects exactly what Advent means to me. Advent is about a deep, serious, abiding joy that doesn’t ignore the pain of life but doesn’t buckle underneath its weight either. It acknowledges the difficulty but continues to trust, hope, and rest in a faithful, loving God. Advent gives me permission to celebrate in the midst of all of my hurt this December. It reminds me that Christmas is at its core about a God who enters into our suffering and pain and keeps His promises. So I will light candles and hang lights and I will sing those happy songs with tears. Just like God’s people many years ago I will wait as they waited and I will long as they longed.