I tend to get into Christmas.
I mean really get into Christmas.
I am Clark Griswold. If I could cover my house in thousands of lights, I would risk my well-being to string them up. If I could find a tree too big for my living room, I would cut it down and figure out a way. I am proud of that identity. I own it. I have no inhibitions.
However, this Christmas feels a little more subdued. I still “don me now my gay apparel” (Oh, how I wish the original meaning of that word hadn’t been hijacked): Christmas tee-shirts, and neckties, and an over-the-top Santa hat. I watch Christmas movies like A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and Die Hard (and, yes, it is a Christmas movie). I play carols incessantly without hesitation or shame (and those who constantly complain about Christmas music, I don’t care).
This year feels a bit different, more laid back. I still feel excited for the holiday. However, I felt I entered into this Christmas season more emotionally exhausted than anything else. I felt mentally spent, spiritually stressed out and tired.
The last few months were tough. Nearly everything in and around my house seemed to be falling apart. Our finances became frightfully stretched.
Years ago, the events of these previous months might have sent me into a meltdown.
My kingdom felt like it was crumbling.
However, thankfully, perhaps from experiencing the grace of God in my previous crises, as stressful as these months were, this time I never felt God had abandoned me.
I did not see my litany of mishaps as an absence of God or even as a divine punishment.
I can’t say I looked up at heaven from my pit bathed in a heavenly glow. The struggle with my flesh was present. However, I was able remember and believe that this was not my kingdom to begin with.
Further, at several points—even as late as last week–God wonderfully reminded my wife and I that he still sees us.
And that gave us peace.
This is how I entered into this Christmas season: with an odd mixture of exhaustion and peace.
The angels’ message to the shepherds also seemed meant for me: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news. The king has come.
When angels appear, they always start all their proclamations with “Do not be afraid.” It is these mighty beings who come to Mary and the lowly shepherds to announce the coming of the Prince of Peace. I find the angel’s assurance to not be afraid more than a little ironic. Angels are not adorable, chubby little infants, with rosy, red cheeks and dressed in diapers and wings. Try to imagine the angel guarding the east gate of the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword flashing back and forth as an adorable little two-year-old. It doesn’t jive. No, angels are powerful, intimidating and warrior-like entities whose presence evokes fear in those they encounter.
Yet their message is anything but threatening.
The angels are there to proclaim the arrival of the King of kings.
I have nothing to fear because in the middle of my own fragile, crumbling kingdom, Emmanuel has come to set up one that will never end. That is good news. It is reassuring to us in the midst of struggle.
This good news gave me the freedom not to wildly celebrate his arrival, but to rest in it. It’s like the angels said, specifically to me. “Do not be afraid. I bring good news. God sees you and has stepped into your crumbling kingdom and in doing so, brings peace. Now rest.”
Regain my bearings.
Rest in the knowledge God’s got this. Rest in the fact that no matter how big our problems, he has no equal. Rest in the assurance that, whether some miraculous miracle drops fire from heaven for Elijah or I wind up on the ash heap like Job, God is here, with us.
Sometimes we celebrate the arrival of Christmas with wild passion and joy. I have seasons like that.
But sometimes we just need to celebrate its arrival with the peace to rest.