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Every year, I struggle to catch what they call "the Christmas spirit." I haven't had an easy time of it. Food restriction, isolation, and an utter lack of energy seem out of place in the season. As we understand it, anyway.
This year, it's easier. I'm savoring every victory, every step forward, the last melted drippings at the bottom of my ice cream bowl. And I do it without apology.
In a world in which darkness seems to win far too often, we should celebrate every ray of light, wherever it shines.
And yet, I sense how out of step I am with so many in my circle.
You don't live in a war zone four years and go blind to the devastation around you the moment a cease fire is declared in your corner of the world.
My prayers go to my new friend Talena, who spends her first holiday season without her youngest son.
To my mentor, Dixie Perry, and her family who relive the trauma of two years ago. They spent that Christmas in a sterile hospital far away from home waiting for healing that didn't come.
To my Jenny's family, who celebrate birthdays and holidays with a gaping hole in their midst.
To friends of my parents who lost their son to suicide last Christmas.
To my youth minister's family who'll spend their first Christmas without their dad/husband/son/brother/cousin.
To the grandmother raising her two young grandkids because living became too great a burden for their mom to bear.
To my cousin who still hasn't recovered from the dangerous infection inside her skull nor from the never-ending stack of brain surgery bills.
To sick parents of new friends hoping for another Christmas with their families.
To my sick friends still waiting for healing.
To those reeling from the massacres in Paris and San Bernadino.
It's hard to sing about peace on earth with all this blood on the ground.
Where do we fit in a world singing about jingle bells, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and being home for Christmas when the Home we long for seems so far away?
Maybe with the shepherds--humble, lonely, marginalized. Or maybe with the women in Jesus's lineage--Gentiles, sexual deviants, misfits.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The promise is yours when you throw yourself into the arms of Jesus.
For some of us, it's worse than simply not relating to the culture of holiday commercials. We can't breathe for the grief pounding over us in wave after wave after wave.
Our Christmas dramas and sermons skip Herod's slaughter of the young children in Matthew 2. Who wants to think of dead babies at Christmas? But it's there, reminding us that Christ's coming isn't only for singing angels but for heartbroken mothers, too.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Maybe tragedy lies on the outskirts of your experience. You aren't weeping. You aren't dancing. You're tired. You want to stop all the stuff and rest a while.
Well, there's Mary.
All this activity bustles around her. A parade of dirty shepherds. Rumors of scandal. Majestic yet ominous prophecies at the temple. That mysterious star, lighting up the night sky above Bethlehem. The exhausting work of motherhood. Displacement from home and family. Loneliness. Responsibility. That new mama tangle of ecstasy and trepidation.
Instead of giving herself to the whirlwind, she silences her soul before the Creator in her arms--"But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
Year after year, I elbow my way through the huddle of excited shepherds and wealthy magi to gaze at my Lord Jesus by Mary's side. Whether I'm pondering the sword piercing my soul or the glory of God wrapped in human flesh, I feel welcome to kneel with her at the manger. To ruminate on things too weighty to say out loud.
But as my mentor points out, the real hope is that the manger is empty. As is the tomb.
Jesus grew up. He lived the life we should've lived, died the death we should've died, and rose from the grave so we can hum tidings of comfort and joy in this war-torn world.
The Christmas spirit isn't about presents and lights and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. It's about God and sinners reconciled.
It's about a King who didst leave His throne and kingly crown when He came to earth for me. A King, who for my sake became poor that through His poverty I might be rich (2 Cor. 8:9). A King willing to sit with me in the ash heap and lift me out in His good time (Psalm 113:7).
It's okay to mourn this holiday season, but be brave enough to sing "joy to the world" in the middle of a sleepless night.
It's good to shout "glory to God in the highest," but don't be afraid to weep with those who weep.
In our dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light. He is our Living Hope, who secured for us an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that does not fade.
Live the Christian paradox this Christmas.
Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
Until Christ comes again, that's the Christmas spirit.
Ann Voskamp released this "Advent Lament" last year. It blessed me then; it blesses me now:
How can I pray for you this Christmas? Leave your request in the comments below. Or if you're celebrating an extra bowl of ice cream and need a dancing partner, I'm there. It will be my joy to pray and weep and celebrate with you as I cook and clean and ponder in the days ahead.