The older I get, however, the more aware I become of the complexities of adult life. On Christmas Eve, The New York Times posted this captivating albeit depressing column on how disparate our childhood perceptions and the reality of our early memories can be. And even as we joyously celebrated my beloved niece's first Christmas this year, there were several long shadows cast on my own holiday spirit.
Due to my overwhelmingly blessed and privileged childhood, I've only recently come to understand that for many people, Christmas is simply a time of suppression—a few weeks out of the year to grin and bear it. We pave over our adversities with empty hustle and bustle, subconsciously hoping that if we plan and celebrate enough, we will somehow transform our humdrum lives into a Norman Rockwell painting. In spite of my most idealistic wishes, life does not magically become perfect and rosy during this season. It's wonderful that people are able to put aside tensions and awkwardness long enough to gather for a day, but it's only a fleeting and often detrimental fix for very big problems. Behind the masks of frozen smiles are intense loneliness, pain, and sorrow.
For an uncertain instant, the challenges of this holiday season threatened to smother my usually unflappable cheer. But when I revisited the Christmas story, I was reminded that the events of Jesus' birth were not at all as warm and fuzzy as the sanitized greeting card covers would suggest. It is a supernatural and bewildering drama for the unlikely cast of characters. Christmas was not meant to be a candy-coated holiday.
Here's the beauty of Christmas: all those passing mentions of love, joy, and peace are not simply trite wishes, but rather the central theme of the holiday. The disconnect comes when we choose to glaze over instead of acknowledge our broken world during this time of year. Christmas is not an excuse to hide behind a veneer of fake laughter and polite small talk; it's a reminder to pause in the midst of our very real struggles and remember Immanuel, God is with us. The Almighty Lord of all the universe became flesh and walked among us and intimately understands our trials and tragedies. He has come because you were not meant to conquer your shortcomings by yourself. You are not alone, and God himself loves you enough to prove it. And that is the most beautiful truth in the world, more comforting and heartwarming than any lights or ornaments, or even friends and family.
Christmas is about the hope we have because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. And our response to that extravagant gift is where that magical feeling at Christmas comes from: the freedom we have in light of God's grace to forgive, to lay down our heavy burdens, to be still and at peace, eternally loved and secure.