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What Christmas was meant to be

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Christmas time. A wondrous time of year. We wait for it, long for it- anticipating the smells and sounds, sights and feelings of another festive holiday season.

Christmas. That time of year we associate with peace and goodwill and joy. That time of year for baking and presents, music and laughter. That time of year for believing there is a silver lining to the dark clouds of life. That time of year we hold out a reason for hope. A reason for a miracle.

That special time of year.

It’s Christmas time. A time we have relegated to the magical at one end of the spectrum, the miraculous at the other. So expectant are we, so desiring of wonder. So eager for a sign. We want so much, and yet we settle for so little.

I talk to her on the phone and she recounts the fact that there is water damage in the thousands. That, added to the already overwhelming circumstances in her life, those intervening variables that have shifted the course and re-routed the journey of a life to a new path not easily traveled. And she says to me, “I can’t believe this is Christmas.”

Can’t believe that real life is happening in spite of the fact that Christmas is here upon us, waiting in the wings ready to make its grand entrance. Can’t believe that Christmas can happen within the mess of everyday living- the jumble of disaster and heartache and sorrow and pain- as a steady as a summer rain. The one thing we can count on for sure in this life is we will have trouble. It’s a promise.

Yes. It’s Christmas time. And life goes on. Life continues to travel forward, following the worn, rugged path etched out in time. Continues to make a passageway through hills and valleys, crossing roads that climb the steep incline. We walk, stumble forward- as weary travelers bent on reaching our destination, come what may. And all along the way, we face our trouble. Square on at times, in fits and starts at others.

Come what may.

And what may will come- we can be sure of that. Sickness and sorrow, death and devastation. Nothing stops for Christmas. Nothing is placed on hold as a promise for a single day. Trouble is here, even at this special time of year. This we know for sure.

For life is hard, even at Christmas time. Perhaps especially at Christmas time. Life is hard. And living is never really easy. Getting up and facing another day, another challenge is a tremendous struggle. Placing one foot in front of the other enough of an obstacle.

Life is brutally hard.
Ask the woman with cancer.
Ask the man with Parkinson’s.
Ask the child without hot water.
Ask the boy who wears the thin smile to hide the pain. The girl whose Daddy isn’t coming home. The person you see standing there in the doctor’s office looking death in the face.
Ask anyone with any trouble of any varying degree if the burden is easy to carry.

Or save yourself the trouble- don’t bother asking. Just look at your own life and you will say with certainty: life is hard.

I am making the bed in the far bedroom when she tells me over the phone wires, that this year she feels the gentle pull of the heart to make this Christmas simpler. To eliminate everything that hinders, consumes, overwhelms and occupies her time, reverting her focus. Because time is precious. And Christmas is fleeting. This year, she’s keeping it simple.

She says her plan this year is to remember what’s important. To remember that Christmas is not about how much stuff we accumulate, but about the people we’ve been given to bless our lives- for however short or lengthy a given time. Her plan is to keep it simple. To remember that we don’t have to run around like banshees making something happen, cooking up a storm. For Christmas is a place in our hearts, not a spot located under the tree or a container stashed away inside a kitchen pantry. Her plan is to just let Christmas happen- let it unfold, without adding unnecessary things or events to clutter the soul.

Christmas was never about all that stuff anyway.

So many Christmases ago, another woman- worn and weary from travel, aching from the load she bore, came to rest in a humble cattle shed. Pregnant, she longed for a place to lie down, having just traversed with her husband-to-be over an eighty mile trek. All this, mostly by foot. Consider the thoughts in her head- fear mixed with worry. Wonder mixed with concern. The two sojourned through country riddled with robbers and vagrants waiting for an easy target, yet still she and Joseph pressed onwards- knowing all the while that her body housed the Savior of the world. Tradition would have us to believe that she traveled on the back of a donkey. We will never know for sure in this life; but if it were a donkey, consider the ride a woman in her state would have taken. Awkward, uncomfortable, painful at worst. She must have felt like giving up, turning back. Must have wanted to cry and scream out for the exhaustion of it all. Tired, hungry and thirsty, they forged onward- in spite of the harsh reality of their lives. In spite of it all. And all this, so as to bring Christmas to all of us, to deliver hope to a cold, dark, dreary world.

Jesus never came to us when life was good. He came to earth when it was not. So as to give us Christmas. So as to bring us so much more. He came to bring hope. Came to bring healing. Came so as to comfort us. Provide us with salvation. That baby born rough and ready in Bethlehem became a man who indentified and does even still today, understanding the pain and hurt of our situation. Because the life He lived here on earth as a human was never easy, was never simple. But He lived it so as to give us hope that we can do the same.

Because He lived as we did, we too can face our present situation, our uncertain tomorrows. Because He still lives within the heart of humankind, for all those willing to provide Him room- we too can face the future without fear, finding hope in the knowing that because He lives, so can we.

This year, Christmas will be different in our immediate family. Life doesn’t always work out how you plan it, how you wish it would be. But life can still be beautiful even in the messy. Can still be precious even with the unexpected. Christmas can still be miraculous even in the harshest realities of the moment. For Christmas is in our heart. And we hold it carefully as a precious gift, thanking God that He has granted us the opportunity to experience the wonder of it all for yet another year.

This year, I too am keeping it simpler. Cutting out the stuff that really doesn’t matter anyway. And I pray that this Christmas will be one I never forget. That this Christmas will be one I remember forever.
That Christmas this year will be a place in my heart, not an event on my calendar. A blessed Christmas of hope and healing.

That’s what Christmas was meant to be from the very beginning.

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