When Not Everyone Can Come Home For Christmas

I absolutely love this time of year.

It’s the only time of year when ugly sweaters are fashionable and grown women can get away with wearing a onesie to a party. There are lights everywhere, the air always smells fresh, of evergreen and snow, and people are generally so much happier than usual. This is the month of Christmas, of Sugar Cookie Coffee and mistletoe and ginger snaps.

I love Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas movies (the Beauty and the Beast Christmas special, Elf, and Christmas Vacation are some of my favorites) and pretty much the whole dang season.

But this year it’s different. There will be some people who are missing from around the tree. And no amount of laughter, family anecdotes, or carols could cover up the silence that their absence brings. And it doesn’t matter how many people we jam into the room or around the dinner table, because it will still feel empty. And it doesn’t matter how many traditions we partake in this year, because they will still feel lopsided and just… wrong. No matter how many “normal” things we do to celebrate the birth of our Savior, it’ll be different. And not in a good way.

As wonderful as the Christmas season can be, it’s starting to remind me that an empty chair is filled with pain. It doesn’t matter why the chair is empty- deployment, divorce, discord, death- at the end of the day, regardless of the reason, someone you love very dearly isn’t sitting there. And the holiday season just doesn’t feel as cheery because of it.

Have you ever felt that way?

I find myself wondering what Christmas will look like this year. Will it be sad? Will we cry? Will the absence be awkwardly ignored, too painful to talk about? Or will it be all we can talk about?

I don’t know what to think. Or what to expect, and I know I’m not the only one. So instead of focusing on the things that I don’t know, I have decided instead to lean on something that I know with absolute certainty: There is a God, and He is here.

There are lots of names of God, and each one reveals something different about his character, and is a way for us to better know and understand the Almighty.

In Genesis 17, when Abraham was 99 years old and childless, God promised him a son. But right before He did that, He introduced himself as “El Shaddai”, which means God our supplier.

Years later, after that promise had been fulfilled through the birth of Isaac, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son. After the altar had been built and the fire prepared, God stopped him by introducing himself as “Jehovah-Jireh”, meaning God who provides. God provided a lamb to save Isaac then, and Jesus, years later, to save us.

And it is that saving that this season celebrates. Jesus was born to die, to save the world of our sins. And while that may sound grave, and death isn’t something most people speak of when celebrating birth, that is exactly what happened in scripture. In every Nativity scene, you see Mary and Joseph,  the Baby Jesus, some animals, angles, and wisemen.

Jesus was offered three gifts from the wise men. Gold represented that he was King. Frankincense, an incense used in burnt offerings, represented that He was God. And myrrh, an embalming oil, represented his death.

Death has been a topic of discussion at Christmas ever since it began. But so has something else.

There is a name of God that was first used when Jesus’ birth was prophesied in Isaiah, and used again in Matthew when Joseph was told that his young bride was pregnant. “Emmanuel”. God is with us. It’s in songs, on decorations that my mother has hanging around our home, and more importantly, it’s in the Bible passages that talk about the Birth of Jesus, mingled sweetly with foreshadowings of his death.

Christmas will feel empty this year. Emptier than it ever has before, and there is no way around that. And even though there are loved ones who won’t be here, we are celebrating the birth of our King, of God with us. The one who promised never to leave, forsake, or abandon us, even in the midst of dealing with the pain of separation that death brings.

I understand that now, more clearly than I ever have before. All my loved ones aren’t with us, but our God is. And that’s what we’re celebrating. He is with us.

Merry Christmas.

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