Tuesday, December 12, 2017

When Christmas Isn't Merry

"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."
2 Corinthians 1:3,4
(KJV)

It's no secret that I absolutely love Christmas.
And, I would say that a big percentage of the people reading this would, without hesitation,
give the answer of "Christmas", if they were asked to name their favorite holiday.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, both in our beloved little town,
and inside our home.
The Nativity scene is out,


the precious-to-us and still-unscathed-by-so-many-years'-use tree we bought our very first married Christmas together 29 years ago is up and twinkling,


and the stockings are hung with care.
Zach is SO excited for Christmas and counts down the days on this little chalkboard.


There is joy in our hearts in abundance this Christmas season...yes...
but, there are also a lot of other emotions and feelings that pervade.

Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year, in my opinion,
but Christmas does not remove or erase real life.
It doesn't magically transport the heart to a place where there is no grief,
no tears, no pain, and no heartache.
On this earth, there is no such place, and that is reality.
Only Heaven will bring such blessed perfection.

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
Revelation 21:4

Jesus said, 
"These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. 
In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Life in this world is not perfect.
Far from it.
As a year begins to wind down, I always get sentimental
(I know what you're thinking...just when is she not that way?😂)
and become reflective.
My thoughts go deep, and I look back over the closing year and sort of come up with a mental recap.
As I do that this year, I'm telling you, it has been ONE. HARD. YEAR.

The word we chose, as a family, for 2017 is PEACE.
In light of that fact, if I look back and measure the year based on peaceful circumstances,
I would rate it a big zero.
Peaceful circumstances?
NOT hardly.
That is what I was hoping for when we felt led to choose that word as our "word of the year".
God had other plans.
Whew.
Just thinking back on all that has happened, and all that is still happening at this very moment,
makes me weary-beyond-words, heart-wrenched, and just plain mentally and physically exhausted.

NOT that I am complaining.
I promise, I am not.
Because in the midst of loss, grief, physical affliction, mental anguish, and an ongoing fight with severe anxiety, amongst other things, I am GRATEFUL.
From the bottom of my heart.
This year has been far from externally-peaceful, but it has brought more blessings than we could ever count.
God has been there....through it all.
He has come on the scene for us time after time after time, and I say,
all glory to Him for His faithfulness, for His unfailing love, and His never-ending mercies to my family and me.
Praise His holy name from the depths of my inmost soul.
I have never loved Him more.

In our year of the word, "PEACE", I have learned a new appreciation for the quote,
"Sometimes God calms the storm; sometimes He calms His child."
There has been a whole lot more of "calming His child" than His "calming the storm" this year.
Sometimes, peace is not about the absence of life storms.
Sometimes, peace is not about the external...at all.
Sometimes, peace is all about the internal work God does in us, in spite of all that is happening around us.

Christmas time is nearing, yet real life remains...for you...for me...for all of us.
The wheels of human condition do not screech to a halt at Christmas.
Brokenness continues.
Grief remains raw.
Woeful hearts bleed.
Impending loss hovers and pulls a cloud over present circumstances.
Fear and uncertainty are still hard at work and ever on the job.
Illness invades the best-laid plans.
Bodies ache.
Marital tensions rip and tear, as the sound of good-bye echoes ahead of ever being spoken.
Wounds, betrayal, disappointment, and shattered dreams haunt, overtake waking thoughts.
Empty seats at family gatherings serve as stark reminders of how much we've lost.
Loneliness magnifies as memories of Christmases past wash over grieving souls.
Dread overwhelms as we look around and wonder whose seat will be empty next.
Depression is formidable...even now.

Life goes on, yes, even at Christmas.
Those who are struggling often find their pain even intensifies during this time of year.
It can feel like a personal attack when it seems that everyone around you is wrapped in a blanket of joy, as you stand outside the warmth on the sidelines shivering from a cold, sad, deep void.

The truth is, everyone suffers, and in spite of all of the merriment of this blessed time of year,
every heart continues to bear its own sorrow.

And, this, my friend, is why Jesus came!
Not to make life one long, incessant bed of ease.
Not to remove every thorn from our path.
Not to promise that we would never hurt.
But, He came...He condescended to be born into a human body...just like us...
so He could FEEL our pain.
So, He could experience what it means to be one of us...
to walk in the shoes of human condition...squalid, wretched, needy parts included.
To not just hear about what we're like, watching from Heaven afar,
imagining what it would be like to go through the things we do,
but to live out the full gamut of life as we know it.
He breathed it all...the entire scope of what sin has done to our fallen world.
He didn't insist upon being born in the palatial castle He deserved,
as a full-grown Prince of Peace whose every wish was granted to the full.
That night, so long ago, in that precious spot, under that brightly shining star,
Jesus, our Lord and Savior chose to came into this world the same, exact way you and I did...
through the anguished birth pangs of His mother, Mary.
He chose to start out the same way you and I did, not to stay frozen in that manger, but to grow one day at a time, so He could live and breathe the complete capacity of life on earth.
He, the Bread of Life, chose to depend upon someone else for His daily bread.
He, the Maker of All, chose to have to learn how to make things at the feet of His earthly father, Joseph.
He, the Word made flesh, chose to need to be taught how to speak, read, and write.
He, the One who "did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (I Peter 2:22), chose to become sin and bear the full guilt and punishment for every, single thing you and I have ever done or will ever do wrong.

"For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
2 Corinthians 5:21

Regardless what you are going through this Christmas, may I just take this opportunity to remind you that Jesus came.
I know you know that.
May I add two words to the end of that?
Jesus came for you.
He understands.
He truly gets all you are going through...because there is nothing you are facing right now that He cannot relate to on the most personal, intimate level possible.
In some form or another, He has felt every human emotion known to man.

Many years after that starlit night in Bethlehem, He said this,
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30

This is why He came.
To do the heavy lifting.
To bear our unbearable sins.
To give us rest.
To offer an easier yoke.

Trying to navigate through this beyond-difficult life without being "yoked" to Christ adds so much unnecessary, extra strain and toil.
We are going to have problems, whether we choose to yoke to Him or not.
Taking His yoke upon us and allowing Him to take the hardest, weightiest end of the load brings blessed relief.

This Christmas, I pray that you experience Jesus, the reason for the season, in a whole new way.
My hope is that He becomes vividly real to you, that as you view manger scenes and starlit nights, 
you are able to give your all to Him...the good, the bad, the ugly, the unmentionable.
That you can release your heaviness to Him, and sense the reality that He is absolutely on your team,
He is fighting for you, and He loves you with an everlasting love.

Though life is hard and situations are sometimes overwhelming,
He is here.
God with us.
Emmanuel.
Our Savior forever.