We put up the same decorations, we sing the same hymns and carols, we even read the same scripture texts at this time of year, but I pray that not every Christmas will be the same.
This year I found myself headed toward Christmas day encountering a number of emotional ups and downs.
With the announcement of the official end to the war in Iraq comes the anticipation of many soldiers returning stateside. Joyful reunion scenes are headed our way, and we will get to see families embrace each other in a classic welcome home.
These will serve to make Christmas very special for so many. While I rejoice with them, at the same time, I cannot help but think of a family I know who lost their son in a helicopter crash just a few years ago. For both the families who celebrate and those who still grieve, Christmas will never be the same.
A week ago, news from friends on Facebook tugged me in two directions on the same day. One friend announced the birth of his son. Another friend’s 7-year-old son finally lost his battle against brain cancer. For both of them, no Christmas will ever be the same.
Add to these the bedtime story I read my son the other night. You don’t have to guess about the plot of Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen. The story is told with great care and dignity. The references to hunger and poverty are subtle. We were deep into the story before we actually encountered the word “homeless,” but by that time I was a weepy mess.
One thing that has always been the same throughout history is that trouble never takes a day off during the holidays. Any number of difficulties can be hard to bear, and that burden seemingly can be multiplied this time of year.
The Christmas angel in the gospel of Luke announced, “Good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people.” It might be easy to catch ourselves being a little cynical about that. All people? Really?
Well, it’s true. The coming of Christ is a blessing meant for everyone. The love of God took human form and lived among us – and for us. He lived and died for all who are celebrating and for all who weep, for the homeless, the hungry and the helpers. The era of “God with us” had begun, and none of us will ever be the same.
I had a week that was punctuated by delight and disappointment. In a season of hope, peace, joy and love, I was also accompanied by sadness. I have to confess I failed to realize for a few days that sadness was not my only companion – yes, even pastors have this problem.
In my weepy moments, I prayed. I prayed for friends and family. I prayed for folks I did not know. I offered up the sadness, not in a manner which revealed some hurry to get my grief over with, but thankful that there was room in my heart for others.
In church we have sung, “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.” Wouldn’t you know, he showed up and started clearing out space and inviting more folks over.
How did it happen? God happened. At the very point where I was searching and yearning, for something, I was met with God’s love reaching toward me – toward us all. God’s love focused toward us through Jesus Christ welcomes us all to come to him with our hurts and frustrations, with all our circumstances that we think will never change. Whether we are devout, halfway believe or even don’t believe, we are still welcomed, heard and loved.
In celebrations or in sadness, we are not alone. God is with us and we will never be the same, and neither will Christmas.
(Chip Reeves is pastor of First Baptist Church of Evans.)