oh oh oh, when things aren't holly, jolly
It wasn't until our son Brian was murdered in 2011 that the down-side of the Christmas holidays was real. Yes, there had been holiday tragedies and sadness, even at a personal level. But, not until we experienced the grief of his death did either of us realize that behind the glitter everything isn't always holly jolly.
As a result, Christmas 2011 was different. It was a time of intense personal pain and great discovery as well. Evidently the learning curve is ramped up in times of deep loss, as if our receptors were fine-tuned in the grind of those months. So, that December I preached Christmas messages from another angle, a reversal of the merry ho ho ho themes to a more somber oh oh oh. Since then there has been a new awareness of the sensitivity of those days, and a new appreciation of God's answer for troubled humankind. Underneath the festive veneer of the season there are plenty of hurting people. While we pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men there's ample suffering, reminders of life in a fallen world. Then there is His gift and the messages of hope that He brings to us in the season. Several of them are lasting affirmations of His gracious care. May I share a couple of them?
1. Christmas interrupts our circumstances with lasting joy.
Most of my close friends have heard my sermons and comments about the
shallowness of our happy-oriented world. Our emotions are triggered by life
circumstances that change so suddenly, moving us up and down a scale of
highs and lows with rapid precision. When the angels announced the birth of
Jesus, they brought "...good news of great joy that will be for all people" (Luke
2:10). In Christ God provided a means of lasting joy to interrupt the rise and
fall of our situational emotions. Since then we have been sustained by the joy,
and that has been the central theme of our holiday experiences since then. To
my preacher friends, I challenge you to preach the joy more often in what can
be a hard time for many.
2. Christmas reminds us of God's incredible timing.
Many oh oh oh moments explode into our lives like a sudden storm. They loom
larger in those special times when families gather and we celebrate
remembrances of times past, even as we anticipate times to come. The Apostle
Paul reminded the Galatians of God's calibration of time and the gift of His
only son when he wrote, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent
forth His son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were
under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4).
Certainly God is aware of the needs of His children and provides His healing
and care according to the mystery of His timing. Christmas is one of those
opportune moments to herald His timing and love. Announce it, distinctly.
3. Christmas reverses the oh oh oh of suffering to an oh oh oh of awe.
That God is always working for good in our lives is a central tenet of faith.
Sometimes His working is blurred by our own clouds of doubt and questions,
occasioned by the more horrible aspects of life. To me, Christmas celebrates
what God is doing in our lives. Solomon wrote about it this way: "I know that
all God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God
works so that people will be in awe of Him." (Ecclesiastes 3:14). The
Incarnation is one of those oh oh oh times that makes us stand in awe of Him.
Every day I am reminded of the Bible promise he gave me on the night we
found out about Brian's death, 1 Peter 5:6: "Humble yourselves, therefore,
under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." Christmas
declares that there is a "due time" in God's economy. It is awesome. We must
So, the decorations are going up, gifts are being purchased, and plans are being made in what is a time of great joy. Often the merriment provides a momentary covering for those who are experiencing times of hardship, loss, financial stress, and personal anxiety. Let's just be aware that everything isn't holly jolly for everyone in the season, and be as quick to live out the peace and joy that is ours because of him. With the shepherds, let's return from this season "...glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them" (Luke 2:20).
Joyful, joyful, we adore thee.