It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s practically impossible to express just how wonderful it is to celebrate the birth of our long-awaited Messiah who came to set us free from the curse of sin and the sting of death!
So it may be hard to imagine that for many people at Christmastime, loneliness overshadows laughter, dread overwhelms delight, and pain steals peace. Then again, maybe it isn’t so hard for you to imagine. Instead of jingle bells, all you hear is the door slamming behind your spouse. Christmas cards bring happy greetings, but they’re overshadowed by a glaring pink slip bringing news of a jobless New Year. Joyous carols are drowned out by the incessant beeping of hospital monitors. Catalogs and commercials don’t inspire ideas for gift giving—they trigger anxiety about how you’ll pay the bills. In a season when the hope of the Savior should bring joy, comfort, peace, and heart healing, why are so many people still troubled, hurting, anxious, and heavy hearted?
Perhaps our culture is the culprit. Your yuletide vision is probably much like mine: a festooned living room warmed by a crackling fire where darling children in matching pajamas gaze upon a flawless pine. In reality, though, my living room is closer to the “before” picture in a redecorating guide and my kids are more likely to knock the tree over than gaze at it. Slowly but steadily, American culture has driven a focal point of our faith toward a frenzied pursuit of an impossible ideal.
We’re pressured with perfection on a daily basis, but it’s intensified at Christmas. Songs, magazines, and advertisements contribute to the hype, flaunting holiday fashions, extravagant gifts, and over-the-top decorating. Even worse is the faulty representation that Christmas means happy, healthy families, loving couples, and ample bank accounts. These expectations are tough to deal with alone, but when they’re piled on an already-struggling soul, the holiday season becomes nearly unbearable. You may be one of those souls shouldering especially heavy burdens, being bent even more under the unyielding weight of the Christmas perfection ideal. If that’s you, may Christ’s birth encourage you to let go of the world’s expectations, linger over the manger, and lean on the promises of Christmas.
Letting Go of the World’s Expectations
The greatest expectation of humanity has already been met—and eternally exceeded—in Jesus Christ. His incarnation fulfilled the hope of the ages and satisfied the yearning of every heart. John the Baptist was among those anticipating the coming of the promised one. In fact, his ministry was all about preparing people for the Messiah: “After me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (Matthew 3:11). John was privileged to receive personal confirmation from Jesus that he was indeed the one Israel had been expecting for centuries. Matthew tells us, “John . . . sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’” (11:2-5). Jesus satisfied John’s question and the prophecies and the longing of the whole nation of Israel. Today, Jesus satisfies our deepest voids, fiercest soul-hunger, and greatest restlessness. So let go of what the world expects, because in Christ, we are covered with the blood of the one who has already shattered all expectations.
Lingering Over the Manger
Charles Wesley’s seasonal hymn reminds us of why this fulfilled expectation is worth celebrating: “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”
Freedom. Release. Rest. Creation has ceaselessly cried out for it all since the Garden of Eden. Yet when it arrived, it was wrapped in simple rags and tucked into an animal trough. It’s no wonder Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:91). Pause to ponder what the manger embraced. Consider it. Absorb it. Meditate on it. That infant cradled in straw grew to do exactly what Isaiah prophesied: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, . . . to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
When your burdens seem unbearable, linger a little longer over the manger. You’ll find more than just a sweet, sacred face. You’ll find the freedom, release, and rest you crave.
Leaning on the Promises of Christmas
Long before Internet shopping, the arrival of the Sears Wish Book signaled the start of the Christmas season . . . for me anyway. That thick, glossy-paged smorgasbord of products was the ultimate fodder for my wish list. Really, though, simply itemizing what we hope for never guarantees we’ll receive it. But what if we could be guaranteed to receive what we long for—not material things, but gifts that endure forever? Christmas answers this question with a resounding, “You can!” Our heavenly Father has already given us the gift that Paul simply calls “indescribable!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Through this one gift—Jesus Christ—we are promised even more gifts: the indwelling of his Spirit to counsel when questions abound (John 14:16, 26), abundant grace that multiplies when strength wanes (2 Corinthians 12:9), guaranteed victory when the battle is raging (1 Corinthians 15:57), and hope of unending life when all hope seems lost (Romans 6:23). Christmas is the declaration that before you ever existed, your Creator knew you needed these gifts and gave up his only Son to secure them.
If your Christmas does resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, remind yourself who the babe in the manger became, and challenge yourself to become like him. “And Jesus . . . saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them” (Mark 6:34, New King James Version). Pity recognizes suffering. Sympathy cares about suffering. Empathy identifies with suffering. But compassion seeks to ease suffering. If your holiday is picture perfect, then it’s a perfect time to picture how you can be a blessing to others. “If someone . . . shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” (1 John 3:17, New Living Translation).
Christmas is simultaneously a reminder and a challenge. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16, NIV). “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands” (1 John 5:2). Jesus came to showcompassion and to teach us to show compassion. And that, friends, is why it really is the most wonderful time of the year!
Stephanie Davis is an attorney who resides in Pikeville, Kentucky with her husband, Aaron, and their three sons.