I have always loved and enjoyed Christmastime. I’d even go so far as to say that I am a naturally positive person. The season of joy and peace on earth are not naturally difficult for me. But I also can’t say that I find them easy. I think many of us, upon proper reflection on current events and our own life struggles, can admit that sometimes the jolly spirit just doesn’t fit. When we’re honest, we notice that despite heralding in the season of joy, we are no stranger to sorrow.
That is the world and life as we experience them, and all of us know these things to some extent. This Christmas, we need no further reminder that innocent children are often victimized, that political unrest leaves a wake of destruction, and that hardship, confusion, or loss bring grief to families around the world.
So how do we reconcile these images? Joy on the one hand and the pain of sorrow on the other? We present Christmas as a season all about happiness when we know mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters whose Christmases carry on incomplete and indeed experience these things ourselves.
What do we do with loss and grief in a season described by joy? How can I celebrate when sometimes I can barely stand? But, you see, this is what makes Christmas all the more real – all the more needed: That in our despair we can sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Sometimes joy and sorrow seem contradictory or at least mutually exclusive, but we need Advent and we need Christmas, because we desperately need to be reminded of this Emmanuel, God-with-us. Despite the fact that ribbons and bows and glitter sometimes don’t fit, I can carry my sorrows and find solace at the manger just as I can at the cross.
Author Henri Nouwen unites these two beautifully in writing that,
Joy and sorrow are never separated. When our hearts rejoice at a spectacular view, we may miss our friends who cannot see it, and when we are overwhelmed with grief, we may discover what true friendship is all about. Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth.
So, you see, in this season of Christmas, grief and sorrow have a home too. In fact, without them we may lose sight of the power of God-with-us. Realities like this make the season of God-with-us all the more needed – that in this season, whether grief stricken or lighthearted, hope has a name. I love Christmas, because I need it. I need the reminder that hope has come.
Advent reminds us to hope and to wait. It reminds us that our present circumstance will not always be – That something new is coming! And with our waiting comes hope. This, I believe, is the power of this season: that here joy and sorrow meet. Here, the mournful state of our hearts is reminded that, as Psalm 16 says, Our God has not abandoned us in our decay; he has not left us to our despair. Here, in this season, hope has a name!