How do you celebrate Christmas when things aren't as they should be?
How do you experience joy in Christ's birth when there is pain he has not yet relieved?
Christmas Eve is the answer to these things. It is the anticipation of the miracle.
For me, there has always been such a mysterious and beautiful quality to the night before Christmas. The snow falling in the dark, the call to fall on your knees as you sing and realize it is a Holy Night. I have to admit that the anticipation for me as a child is different now that I'm grown, but it is no less intense. Instead of longing for a morning of material presents under the tree, I now long for the morning of a long, dark, and hard night of trial.
The promise of presents was nice back in childhood, but eventually I stopped playing with all those toys. They got old, broke, or turned out to be less fun than the commercials advertised. But this miracle I'm leaning into now-- this miracle of hope that I'm clinging to in the darkest times of my soul--- This Jesus will not wear out or fade or be destroyed. I will be increasingly be captivated by him, and his deliverance is certain, sure, and trustworthy because I've placed my faith and trust in him.
Why is it that we all have such a hard time having faith in him when the bottom drops out? It's easy to say "I believe in Jesus" when the world's turning our way, or even when we have inconveniences. But when everything you once held as certain becomes uncertain-- when God lets tragedy not only strike but also linger in our lives, do we still have the courage to say "I believe" and mean it? We have certain expectations of God-- that he will make our lives comfortable, our friends and family blessed, and our prayers answered within a reasonable time. But God makes no such guarantees. "Unfair!" we cry in reflex-- without even thinking we react to loss and sorrow with a whiplash of faith that can catch our minds and emotions off-guard. We expect joy and peace to mean everything in its place and circumstances lining up. It has never occurred to us that joy can choose its home in the broken body, or peace lay covering the heart shedding tears.
Who is this man Jesus who said "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."? He's the one who holds his hand out to you today and says-- "Will you take it?" Will you take his hand knowing he could take you to the depths of some of the most painful places but promising that he will never leave you or forsake you?
I ask tonight if you believe in the hope of tomorrow. Do you believe that "to us a child is born, to us a son is given"?
He is our Wonderful Counselor when we can't understand.
He is our Mighty God when we can't defend ourselves.
He is our Everlasting Father when our earthly fathers die or fail us.
He is our Prince of Peace when we are hit hard in a world full of chaos, sin, and darkness.
Take heart, you who are in pain-- you who hurt and feel like it will never end. Take heart when you look at others and see that they have everything you want but can't have right now. God is gracious, and he remembers you.
"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."