Christmas is different this year. While I have celebrated past Christmases without my brother present (he did live out of state of many years, after all),this year is different. I know I’ll never see him blow into my parents’ house, a bit late with his presents not quite wrapped, wearing that leopard trimmed Santa hat.
During this month, it seems every time I turned around, I was reminded of my brother. I blinked back tears when I hung that little plaque he made me in the bathroom.
Wrapping gifts reminded me how much care he took with finding just the right wrapping paper for each person – down to what he used for tissue paper.
His name was glaringly absent from my Christmas list, and I had to remind myself not to visit the pet store to buy something for his dogs.
I cried while I made fudge because my brother loved chocolate.
Going through this first Christmas, knowing that he is no longer here – not just somewhere else but no longer anywhere on this earth – has been hard. I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy.
Yet, there have been moments of joy this Christmas season, too. Because as much as I enjoy spending time with family, and as much as this holiday has become synonymous with gatherings and family and friends, that’s not really what it is all about.
I was reminded of this when I went to a memorial service that was held at the funeral home that handled my brother’s service. This particular funeral home has a memorial service every year at Christmastime for families that have lost a loved one that year.
As I sat waiting for the service to start, I looked around and was struck by how many other people had suffered loss that year. The room was packed and overflowing. I wondered how I would make it through this Christmas season, how I was going to make it special for my family when I really didn’t feel like celebrating at all. Not celebrating really wasn’t an option for me though. My oldest son is a senior in high school. This is the last year before our family changes, and I was determined not to flake out for it, but I knew it would be difficult.
Then the speaker got up and he shared how when he was younger, his dad had shared the news of his parents’ divorce with him on Christmas Eve. It had shattered him and ruined the holiday for him.
From that time on, he hated Christmas – wouldn’t celebrate it. Until one day, his college roommate told him, “Christmas isn’t about you.” Those words sort of echoed over and over in my mind as I drove home.
Because here’s the thing, as much as I enjoy the outward festivities of Christmas – the baking, the visiting, the gifts, the time with family – Christmas isn’t really about that at all.
It’s about a young teenage girl giving birth in a cave while her equally young, scared husband looked on helplessly, hoping he could deliver this baby that was supposed to be the Messiah.
It’s about lowly shepherds hearing the news of the Messiah’s birth from a choir of heavenly angels.
It’s about a God, who in all His goodness and His love, stepped into this world – not as a king or some powerful figure – but as a helpless baby born to a teenage girl and a poor man.
It’s about Emmanuel – God with us.
I can have joy with my tears because God has truly been with me in these past few months. God could have just offered us salvation and that would have been an indescribable gift we don’t in any way deserve.
But He offered so much more. He offered to dwell within us. Does that give you goosebumps, like it does me?
I can celebrate Christmas because it is a time to remember that God didn’t just step into this world as that tiny, helpless baby so long ago. He still continues to bend near to us, still does not flinch away from all the messiness of our lives.
He is truly Emmanuel. He is God with us. And that is something I want to celebrate because, in this time of grief, I have never felt His presence in my life more.
God may call us to the hard road, but He never asks us to walk it alone. That, in itself, is why I can celebrate Christmas while grieving, why my tears can mingle with joy.
I hope that, even if you are experiencing hard things – the loss of a loved one, an illness, a broken marriage or some other type of suffering in your life – you can still allow yourself to celebrate the wonder of a God who came down to us, not just to save us, but to have an intimate relationship with us. A God who is Emmanuel – God with us.
Merry Christmas, Rosanne