Hope for the Hard Holidays
Words by Kara Ranck
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year! There'll be much mistletoe-ing, and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near… ” proclaims the famous Christmas song by Andy Williams. But are those words true of your holiday?
Stop for a minute and picture your favorite Christmas memory from childhood. For many of us, our childhood memories of Christmas appear magical. This was back before we understood that carols might have been drowning out intense adult conversations, or that twinkling lights blinded us to the angry looks passed between relatives. Back before we knew the realities of life in a fallen world with fallen people—even during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
We desperately long to go back to those magical memories, because we now know holidays can be hard. Many of us try to replicate those past enchanted celebrations for our own families and children, but end up feeling like we fail simply because our image of the perfect holiday has already been shattered. We realize we’re just producing a façade. We’re jaded, cynical, guarded, sad, and downright wounded. We pray and long for reconciliation of relationships, but just can’t see past the situation. We lament for the relationships we’ve lost—to death or offense—and feel as empty as the place they once occupied.
Undoubtedly, holidays and sacraments are meant to be a time set aside to remember and celebrate what God has done.
We see the Israelites in Scripture set aside Passover to commemorate God freeing them from Egyptian slavery. In the New Testament, Christ calls us to take the cup and bread in remembrance of his sacrifice on the cross for us. In modern times, we Christians use a secular holiday like Thanksgiving to remember the Lord’s provision in our lives, Christmas to mark his birth, and Easter his death and resurrection. Through all of Scripture, we are called to tell the next generations who God is and give testimony through commemoration to how he works in our lives.
It is good to remember, to pause, and worship. We are commanded to in Scripture. But what are we worshipping during the holidays? Too often, we look to the celebration to give us what only Christ can—peace, joy, unconditional love, and gratitude. We get distracted by the Christmas lights and forget we’re to focus on the Light of the World.
When we put our hope in our traditions, celebrations, and those with whom we celebrate, we will be disappointed. These are meant to be signs pointing us back to Christ, not to take his place.
Christmas is a story about reconciliation. The Son of God humbled himself, stepped out of heaven, and clothed himself in flesh. As if that weren’t enough, the brand of flesh he chose to wear was peasant, and he was born in a home for animals rather than a house fit for a king. He did this so that he could live a perfect life, die a criminal’s death, take the punishment we deserve, and conquer the grave so that we—sinful humans—can be reconciled to a holy God now and for eternity. Isaiah tells us he bore “our griefs and carried our sorrows”—this includes our broken relationships and the loss of those we hold dear (Is. 53:4). Jesus felt the full weight of the fall—of our sin—on the cross.
When we know the immeasurable, undeserved grace offered to us in Christ, we can turn and offer it to others. God does not count our sin against us, and calls us to be his imitators, not counting the offenses of others against them (2 Cor. 5:18–21).
No matter the cost. No matter if it humbles us to the level of peasantry. No matter if they deserve it or not. No matter if we are right or wrong. When we hold the gift of eternal life, we can lament with hope our loved ones who are dead in Christ.
We can share his grace with those who do not yet know him and pray that he calls them to place their hope in him.
Before we go to family gatherings or other celebrations, we can get on our knees asking God to fill us with his Spirit so that we can bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). We actively turn our eyes to Christ the Creator, Savior, Redeemer—our Reconciler. We fix our gaze on him, not on those around us, focusing on “him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted”(Heb. 12:3). We faithfully take one step at a time, in rhythm with the Spirit, towards those around us. Forgiveness and reconciliation are his work, and may look more like a slow walk towards another than one climactic moment (Gal. 5:16).
If we take our eyes off him and turn back to our sinful flesh in intense moments this season, we must turn right back around and run to him again. This means repenting of our sin against him and anyone else we’ve offended, accepting his forgiveness, and walking in the freedom of his finished work on the cross (1 Jn. 1:9).
So may your holidays be “merry and bright” as the light of Christ shines through you this holiday season. May your interactions with others reflect the ministry of reconciliation you have received and your heart be full of fruit that only the Spirit can produce. May you sing of the Lord’s goodness—even if it’s not “the most wonderful time of the year”—as you look forward to the greatest celebration we’ll ever experience in heaven, because “Joy to the World! The Lord has come!”