The Christmas season is upon us, and with it comes from all corners a resounding call to good cheer and peace on earth. It’s a time for joy and goodwill, so for the month of December, I stuff the untidy threads, the unfinished stories, and the less-than-perfect realities of the last eleven months onto the top shelf of my metaphorical closet. In January, I’ll open the closet door and all those sins and burdens will come tumbling down on my head like things stuffed in closets tend to do, but for now, all is calm, all is bright.
Except that all is not calm and all is not bright. Christmas does not look like it did last year, nor does it look like I had hoped it would this year. Add to that the fact that, like every year, old cracks have deepened in our hearts and new smile lines have made their homes around our eyes. The holidays are both good and hard, and whatever else we can say about them, they are far from perfect.
That’s an uncomfortable statement. It’s so uncomfortable that I almost deleted that paragraph, even though I mean it, even though it’s very important for what comes next. Shouldn’t I be reveling in the realness of peace on earth as a result of Christ’s coming? nags this little voice inside my head. Shouldn’t my mind be settled on the goodness of God, consumed by thoughts of beautiful things? So I separate the messy from the tidy, put the messy in its little holiday box, tie it up with a bow, and shove it in the closet. All is calm, all is bright.
But Christmas is not about separating the tidy from the messy, the pure from the unclean, or the divine from the human. It’s the opposite. It’s about Immanuel, God with us.
Jesus became man, plain and simple. Instead of holding himself at arm’s length from this messy, broken world, he emerged into the bracing cold of nighttime, greeted by the pungent smells of a feeding trough. He came to earth in an entirely new way—a virgin birth—and yet he came to earth the same way we all do: through the painful childbirth with which Eve was cursed so long ago. He came into a family and a town, a place and a name. He experienced all the tensions of human community, and He knew the inner wrestling of the human heart. He is a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).
Yet, though he knew our struggles, He knew them without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was fully God. His coming was the holiest thing that had ever touched this earth. Though He submitted Himself to God, he remained God. He came into the mess, not to glory in it, but to save us from it. He took the form of man, and then He took His seat beside His Father, from where He will judge the world (Philippians 2:1-11).
This is the Christmas message:
God with us.
God with us.
The good news of Christmas is not the separation of the sacred from the secular. No! the good news is the possibility of the reconciliation of God to man—not because of anything man has done, but because God in his unbelievable Love declared it to be so. We can be reconciled to God not because He made Himself any less divine or because we made ourselves any more so, but because He bridged the gap between Himself and us. God could very well have chosen to remain separate from us, but He didn’t. Instead, He looked down on us and said, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). And then he came, crying and vulnerable, into this mess of a world.
Naming the mess amplifies rejoicing! I’ll say it again: all is not calm, not all the time. All is not bright, not this year or any other. That’s not the way it should be, but that’s the way it is—and there’s nothing wrong with noticing it. It’s this very need for Christ that drives us back to him. It’s sin that reminds us over and over again of our need for grace. And it’s this waiting, longing world, groaning under the weight of itself, that Jesus came to save.
The coming of God to earth is a beautiful thing. It’s holy and solemn, calling us to worship, driving us to our knees. Yet this Christmas and every Christmas, in our rejoicing, there is longing—and that’s how it should be. It will always be that way until Christ comes again.
All to say, there’s allowed to be tension this Christmas between the already but not yet. We don’t have to sweep our griefs or uncertainties under the rug and pretend they don’t exist until the holidays are over. We’re allowed to notice the hard things, the circumstances that don’t quite look like peace on earth. Christ noticed them too, and He came to redeem them. Seeing the hard things leads us to rejoice in the Savior who loved us enough to come into our mess and save us from it. Though all is not calm, all will be made new. Though all is not bright now, it will be bright in the end. After all, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.