I hung the stockings and decorated the tree. I set out the Christmas dishes and put up the nativity, but still my heart doesn’t feel like Christmas. It isn’t just me, either. A pall of sadness seems to hang over our festively adorned home. The kids are crying more often than usual, tempers are short, and no matter what Christmas activity we half-heartedly pursue, nothing seems capable of ridding us of it.
I sat at the dinner table alone. The kids had already hurried off to watch Frosty on TV. I sat there, feeling the burning weight of the ache in my chest. It was as if I couldn’t remember what it was like to live without it. It is easy in all of the festivities to feel like Christmas is just for those whose cups and hearts are full; it is easy to feel left on the outside of the joyful celebrations when your heart is aching.
But it is really for all of us, the broken, that Christmas speaks most loudly. Jesus did not leave his heavenly throne and come to a dirty, cold stable in order for rich folks to exchange gifts they neither need nor want. Jesus came so that those who have no hope could find hope. Isaiah says of our Lord:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1–3)
Christmas is a time to be reminded that our God is a promise-keeper. From the time of Adam to Abraham, from David’s time to Isaiah’s, God had promised a Redeemer—a Savior to his people. For thousands of years they had been watching, waiting, doubting, believing, and crying out to him in anticipation of the Messiah’s appearance. And there, in Bethlehem, just outside of the ruckus of the census crowds, God quietly delivered on his promise in a dirty cattle stall, in the last place on earth anyone would expect it.
One of the unfortunate things about celebrating Christmas every year is that we have become so accustomed to the story that it loses all of its wonder. Stop and ponder for a moment: God became a man—a flesh and blood human being with a specific height, weight, hair color, nose shape and voice. God sent angels, a whole host of them, in the middle of the night to a bunch of blue-collar shepherds to whom were given the honor of sharing the news of the Messiah’s coming. He didn’t call the AP or the press secretary of the provincial governor—he sent shepherds. The God-man baby, who somehow was confined to a woman’s womb for nine months entered the world through a narrow birth canal and emerged, not in a comfortable house or a palace befitting an earthly king, but into an animal shelter to be placed on prickly straw in a splintery feed box.
God, what were you thinking??
Maybe the stable was meant to make us aware of the humbleness of our earthly position before God. Even the richest, most sumptuous palace here on earth must be a hovel compared to the glories of heaven. But we might forget that if Jesus had been born at the Ritz.
All of this brings us back to the brokenness. The reason that compelled God the Son to be born as a baby was to bring a solution to all of the broken things of this world—broken hearts, broken bodies, and broken relationships. Like one of my favorite lines from LOTR, quoted by one of our pastors recently, he came to make “everything sad . . . come untrue.”
My sadness may not lift this Christmas season. But that does not mean that God has not kept his promise to me. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Like Abraham, David, and Isaiah, I must maintain my gaze upon the coming Messiah. As Job (in hope) said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25).
This Christmas season, look with me upon the manger, and rejoice that God has come near to the brokenhearted, just as he promised. He is Emmanuel, God with us, our Savior and our King. And he has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” And we answer with the apostle John, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).