I wasn’t eavesdropping, but while waiting in line for coffee this week I overheard two separate conversations between two different sets of friends say essentially the following: “This is the best! I love this time of year and I can’t wait for all the festivities with my family” and then not 5 minutes later I heard another person say, “It’s only December 1 and I already am ready for the holidays to be over. This time of year is the worst”
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I think we can all agree that this time of year can bring out the best and the worst, not just in our culture around us, but even within ourselves and our families. Like those individuals in the coffee shop, for some the holiday season is truly wonderful. It's a time of giving, of gathering with loved ones and friends, and a time of celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. But for others, this time of year can be stressful, lonely, and a bombardment of hyper-commercialized, unbiblical sentimentality. Our Westminster Confession of Faith teaches us that God alone is lord of the conscience, and so I don’t intend this article to give any recommendations or suggestions as to how or why a believer should navigate the 31 days in December, but I do wish to offer 3 reminders that I believe can help keep the holidays in perspective, and hopefully encourage us as Christians amidst the hustle and bustle.
You are not alone. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” Matthew 28:20b
The Holidays can be the hardest on those who are missing someone around their table this year. The loss of a spouse, parent, child, or even just the physical distance and separation of family across a country (or for missionaries a whole continent!) can present a host of pain and heartache. Not to mention everything we’ve been forced to endure the last two years with a global pandemic. In the age of social media, when seemingly everyone is posting or sharing photos of great gatherings of loved ones together, it's not hard to dwell in loss and loneliness. But as our Lord reminds us, take heart! God promises He is with us. That’s not an idle or empty promise. God sees us, even in our struggles and heartaches, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are truly not alone. Regardless of our marriage status, or if we have multiple children or are childless, we have Christ and His bride, the church. We gather together as God’s people, not just around the holidays or for a special celebration, but every Lord’s Day to grow in grace and connection as God’s covenant family. If you are feeling lonely, share that with a brother or sister in Christ. We walk by faith, not by our feelings, and so let us stay close as God’s people and know that Jesus Christ is with us, Emmanuel.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
Life is not a Norman Rockwell painting. “Behold, I am making all things new” Revelation 21:5
Part of the stress and challenge of this time of year is managing expectations. We live in a fallen and broken world because of sin. A friend commented to me how they love the beauty and simplicity of Thanksgiving, but then Christmas can be so complex and chaotic. Between shopping for gifts, attending parties at work and with friends, and closing out another calendar year in our various vocations, not everything is “calm and merry and bright”. Then, there is the added pressure even among well-intended believers, that our holiday get togethers with friends or family need to be ideal. But life is messy. Relationships and families can be messy. Life isn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting (nothing against Mr. Rockwell or his art). God’s plan for our lives is better than anything nostalgic or the retrospective expectations of another time or era. We know that God is sovereign. He has placed us where He wants us for today. Even if we don’t have the life we thought we would, or think we should, we are still called to gratitude. It’s more than okay if our plans and expectations are not always met. Our heavenly father knows better than we do. In fact, He knows best.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
This world is not our home. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, no pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
Wherever you may be in December 2021, this is not your final destination. As believers, our hope is more exciting than the anticipation I experienced as child, unable to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. Back then I couldn’t wait to open presents in the morning. But the gift that awaits those who trust in Jesus Christ is not worth to be compared with any material possession. Now, I can’t wait for the day when our faith shall be sight and we will see God face to face, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. If you listen to the radio (practically any station nowadays, and even since early November), you’ve likely already heard the classic Christmas song from Perry Como, “Home for the Holidays” The refrain states, “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays, ‘cause no matter how far away your roam, if you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.” I agree with that. There’s no place like home. But our home is not in this world. Our home is with our Heavenly father. Our best life is not now, it is yet to come.
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14
May the Lord bless and keep you all, not only this time of year, but always!