The Christmas season is one of my favorite times of the year. But it’s also one of the hardest.
I suspect this is true for many people, for many reasons, whether it’s difficult family situations, the absence of a loved one or some good thing, or other various circumstances that make us weary, sore, and sad.
But here’s another factor that complicates Christmas: it can heap more guilt upon us, particular for those who struggle with scrupulosity. If we tend to feel false guilt, and if we tend to struggle with shame and self-condemnation, Christmas can stir up plenty of reasons for uncertainty, anxiety, and obsessions. “Peace on earth” feels discordant with the turmoil inside us.
We sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” when we know we’re anything but.
We aren’t in a joyful mood, nor do we feel the “good cheer” that this holiday season is supposed to be about (or so we’re told).
We know we’re supposed to find meaning in this season, yet the celebrations feel frivolous and hollow, just another month on the calendar of a long year.
We feel guilty when it’s December 16 and we’ve read through day 2 of our advent devotional.
We long for Christ’s second advent as we celebrate his first, yet at the same time we’re gripped by fear of what that day could mean for us. What if I’m not saved?
Whatever the reason for your struggle this Christmas season, know you’re not alone. You’re not the anomaly, the odd one out, the only one struggling to find hope amidst suffering a myriad of disappointments, griefs, sorrows, sighings, longings, and fears.
The dissonant notes of this holiday are not unusual or, I think, even inappropriate. Think of the minor keys of so many Christmas hymns. Think of the tension between celebrating the incarnation and longing to experience Immanuel, “God with us,” more fully. Think of Jesus, God-made-man, our only hope and light, who for our sake chose to become a man of sorrows.
I’ve heard it said that the advent season is as much looking forward to Christ’s second coming as it is remembering his first. But to be honest, I’ve always had a hesitant hope about this. I long for Christ to redeem every sorrow, to make right every wrong, to make all things new. I ache to be in his presence, yet I fear it, too. Doubts about my standing with God and fear over what the last day looks like often overpower any longing I feel. Yet even as I long to be with Jesus in the flesh, I long too that he would make himself known to me today. I long for the assurance I see in other Christians. I long for peace from these persistent and condemnatory thoughts. I long for rest from this anxiety.
Yet, these longings themselves are reasons to observe the advent season. Advent songs become songs of lament, of questioning, of sighing, of longing for this broken body to be healed, for this broken mind to be made right again. But mostly, longing for that assurance of God’s presence and his kindness toward me.
Advent is an invitation to cry out to God about this scrupulosity, and about every other weight this year has laid on my shoulders. And I can know—even if I don’t feel it, even as I cry out in my questions and anger—that he hears, but even more, that he knows. How? Not only because he is all-knowing, but because he actually chose to walk through it himself.
None of this provides the type of answers we want in this life, but it’s an invitation to keep going amidst the tension and uncertainty. Keep crying out to God. Keep asking for his clarity and light, even as we continue to walk in the fog, knowing he welcomes our laments as he did the psalmists’.
And know that this God, though he does not often answer with resounding voice or felt presence, is by no means detached. How could such a God lay aside all his riches to immerse himself fully in our experience, to know intimately our every sorrow and the greatest sorrow of all, all for our sake?