When We Unwrap Sorrow Instead of Joy
What’s the Point?
We’ve lost ourselves answering the question of “what does Christmas mean to us” that we’ve wandered a great distance from asking the more potent, ”what does Christmas mean for us.” These are very different questions. One is subjective and allows for jovial responses, filled with family traditions and colorful decorum.
The other not so much.
The other has nothing to do with individual family ties. The latter question deals with a truth for the lot of humanity as a whole. Understanding what Christmas means for us brings a lot more joy, hope, and laughter than any amount of Orbit gum stuffed tightly in a striped stocking hanging on the mantle or a beautifully wrapped box under the tree with a Playstation 4 or NES console.
Because when we look at Christmas as about God’s presence and not our presents, it changes everything.
Forgiveness For Us.
Christmas has become so many things. It’s become a breather from the dread of our work. It’s a respite from study and the woes of academics. It’s a joyous time with extended family. Whatever our circumstances, we’ve learned to live inside the Christmas season for what Christmas means to us. This may bring a brief season happiness, but that’s all it can do.
Christmas is about much more than your presents under the tree. Christmas is about God’s presence that started under a roof of a manger and ended under a dark sky at Calvary. We lose everything when we isolate Christmas. We lose everything when we talk about the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes holding onto Mary’s finger but forget the naked Christ hanging by nails on a cross. We mustn’t let Christmas become the end of the means. No, Christmas is the beginning. Christmas is the proof of God’s faithfulness. Christmas is the incredible, cosmic, and gracious means to the end; the end of sin and separation.
Christmas is about God’s presence in our world to bring about our presence with Him.
Christmas is about forgiveness. It’s about the Father’s forgiveness of his wayward children. Christmas means that we can have true hope. Whenever you see words during the Christmas season such as peace, hope, and joy, it’s not just because they sound good or look great on a Christmas card or coffee mug. These words mean something more than a good choice of cursive typography.
Peace because Christ came and through his life and death and resurrection we now have peace with God, a peace that was destroyed due to our removal of God from his throne.
Hope because Christ brings us back into relationship with God and united with him, rather than separated from him. We have hope now because the temporary only leads into the eternal.
Joy because what has been secured in Christ cannot be taken away from us. Once covered by the sacrifice of Jesus, nothing can come between us and God’s love. There’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing anyone else can do. Our joy has been made sure.
Because of Christ, Christmas means forgiveness for us. It means that what was once keeping us from life with our God has now been destroyed. It means the end of darkness. It means that we, those that have wandered and disobeyed and dishonored God, have been made clean and given a new name.
We’ve been given a new family.
But that means something for the family that we have now.
Forgiveness From Us.
Sadly, the Christmas season doesn’t mark joy for many. For many, it inaugurates sorrow and a period of great mourning. Just recently, NPR released a story from men that held jobs as shopping mall Santa’s, stating the hardest part of taking the seasonal post is hearing young children ask for their parents to get back together.
This is the reality for many during Christmas. Despite the biblical narrative, Christmas is not about presence for them. Instead, it’s about absence. It’s not about the God who came, it’s about the parent who left. It’s not about peace, hope, and joy. It’s about division, despair, and deep pain. Who cares what’s under the tree when we know what car isn’t in the driveway and whose chair is empty at dinner.
And in all of the anger, frustration, and sadness, much like many do with the baby Jesus in the manger, we stay there in our cloud of what once was.
For many, Christmas is not about the God who came. It’s about the parent who left.
But when Christmas becomes alive for us, when we take ourselves deeper into the glorious news of what happens 33 years after the manger scene, our eyes become open to a whole new way of life. It’s because when we learn what God has done for us through Jesus, forgiven us of great error and deliberate idolatry [Ephesians 2], we rejoice. We rejoice over what God has done at Christmas because it means that we personally have the hope of forgiveness. It’s not just an ethereal descriptor, it’s a personal testimony. This is the peace and joy that come from the manger because it means God did something about our sin when we didn’t deserve it. [Romans 5]
When we understand that Christmas means forgiveness for us, our embittered souls become free and realize that Christmas also means forgiveness from us.
This means that because we are forgiven by our Heavenly Father, we now can offer forgiveness to the father or mother that left us behind. We’re blinded by our own bitterness and anger when we blame someone else for the dark cloud over the Christmas season. We’ll never fully grasp the joy of Christmas when we focus on the wrong someone else has done to us, rather than the wrong we’ve done against our God. The hope and joy of Christmas so easily gets lost in what others have or haven’t done for us and to us.
It’s when we see the reality of what God has done for us that the joy and freedom of Christmas comes to life. When we see what God has done, instead of picking up stones to throw, we lay down our pride and we shower others with forgiveness; the same forgiveness that was showered over us.
We offer forgiveness in this season because that’s the whole point of Christmas.
That’s the gospel.
We offer forgiveness to those in our lives that have hurt us the most, knowing full-well that’s exactly what God did for us.
It’s not easy. It never is. But we walk forward knowing with absolute certainty these precious truths:
1. God’s grace is sufficient in our weakness.
2. God understands the great cost of forgiveness.