I have been drawn to Christmas my entire life. I suppose that comes as no surprise. Gift exchanges, mandatory vacation days, and eating inordinate amounts of sweets instigate a hopeful euphoria in even the dreariest of human beings during the weary winter months. And I revel gladly in the season’s happy events. But for me, there is a mysterious darkness, a lingering melancholy underlying December’s happy display. Christmas acknowledges the great lengths God went to because humanity needed—I needed—to be saved.
In the fall of 2005, after graduating with a music degree from Nashville’s Belmont University, I made Music City home to begin work in the recording industry.
I also found a counselor. On the surface, I was seeking a listening ear and objective advice. Deep down, I needed spiritual guidance in unearthing deep-rooted issues of loneliness and low self-worth that had manifested in addictive behaviors since I was a preteen.
So I scrounged up enough change from my entry-level income to alternate between private and group therapy that fall. And as I began to plow up the nighttime sediment in my soul, slivers of light shone through. It felt as if my heart was coming to the surface.
As Christmastime approached, my counselor suggested that when I went home for the holidays, I might share with my family what we had been working on. It was quite the proposal, so I decided to fast for a day. Well, eight hours. Which, for a Baptist boy raised on potluck dinners and three square meals a day, is equivalent to an entire week with nary a morsel of food.
Christmas acknowledges the great lengths God went to because humanity needed to be saved.
As I pondered and prayed, the temporary hunger pangs gradually turned into peaceful confirmation. I called my father and told him of my hope for a fireside chat as soon as I arrived. “Wonderful! I’ll whip up some hot chocolate, and we’ll talk,” he replied. And though the thought of sipping on cocoa while spilling my darkest secrets to my parents made me want to vomit, Dad was just happy to play a personal role in his son’s life.
As I pulled into the cracked West Texas carport of my childhood home, my parents greeted me with their usual big bear hugs. And with the promised warm Santa mugs in hand, we made our way to the living room to talk. As I realized the weight of the content I was disclosing, my emotions eventually spilled into a steady stream of tears. My tender mom walked over, kneeled down, grabbed my hands and said, “Baby, it’s all right. It’s all okay.” My dad simply grinned. Not some manipulative, knowing smirk, but a peaceful, joy-filled smile.
The news that I thought would hurt my parents and lead them to ostracize me turned into compassionate fellowship. In that moment, I thought of the angels who appeared when Jesus was born. Though they knew Bethlehem would pave the road to Golgotha, they sang glad tidings. They rejoiced. They understood the bigger picture.
My parents also understand the bigger picture. They trust in a Creator who personally invests in the stories of His creation, which includes their children. And that night through their gracious reception of pieces of my story, I began to more fully understand the no-strings-attached love of God exhibited through Jesus, who is the Christ.
A few days later, fresh from my family confessional, we celebrated Christmas Eve with a candlelight service in the church building where I was first persuaded by the Messiah. As a sea of burning wicks danced atop handheld candles, voices all around me began reverently singing: “Silent night, holy night / Son of God, love’s pure light / Radiant beams from Thy holy face / With the dawn of redeeming grace . . .”
Here we were, people lost in the dark, confessing the light. Inside the strains of that historic Christmas hymn, I allowed my heart to experience the pain and peace of Christ. Our Creator. Redeemer. Man of Sorrows. My closest Friend. And, perhaps for the first time, I began to sing with deep gladness, “Christ the Savior is born.”
I wish I could say I no longer feel that darkness within me at Christmas, but as a single person entertaining crowds away from home each December, I get lonely. I forfeit a chair at the family table for another plane ride. I replace my bed at home for a solitary hotel room in Orlando. I swap a worship service in Tennessee for a concert in Chicago. And as I sing glad tidings of great joy to pleased audiences, I feel the trade-off.
You have your own struggles. Maybe you grieve over the loved one who left you with a list of secrets when he died. You wrestle with the choice to turn off the computer or delete that phone number when bouts of depression drive a wedge in your marriage. Or maybe your father just passed away from old age in what society deemed a “peaceful way to go,” but you sure do miss your dad.
These are our troubles and they don’t disappear in December. The truth of Christmas reflects this. And it is not easy to fully understand. Isaiah prophesied Christ’s birth, saying:
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or . . . appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed (Isa. 53:2-3, 5).
Perhaps this is the point of Christmas. Not happiness. Or alleviated pain. Or some state of perfect revelation. But because of God’s burden of love for you and me, He reaches down to relate to us and compassionately change us for His glory and our good. In the midst of our humanity, our deep doubts and harried troubles, God offers us the breathtaking reminder of Bethlehem: that we are of great value because He first loved us.