But Christmas can also be a heavy burden for many of us.
My own burden is light compared to many. But the fact is, I find some of the festivities burdensome. Like many Christian preachers in this season, I encourage people to slow down, to take time to be with God. And yet I feel—rightly or wrongly—that I do not have time to take my own advice. A lot is happening at Church. A lot is happening at home. And sometimes it feels like too much.
And I miss people. When I was a child, we celebrated Christmas Eve with my maternal grandmother. We spent Christmas Day with my father’s parents. They have all died now, and I miss them. I miss the aunts and uncles and cousins that I used to see at Christmas, but rarely see now. This Christmas, I will not see my own mother or brother either.
Other people have considerably heavier burdens. I think of anyone who struggles with addiction, in this time of eating and drinking and celebrating. Or anyone who struggles with debt, in this time of conspicuous consumption. Or anyone who struggles with grief or loneliness in this time of family gatherings. Or anyone who struggles with depression in this time of constant cheer.
Christmas can be a wonderful time. And the very wonderfulness of Christmas can make it hard to bear for many of us.
Ironically, those of us who struggle at Christmas time may be closer to the true meaning of Christmas than those of us who love it all. After all, Christmas is not really about feasting and parties and gifts. Gathering with family and friends is closer to the true meaning of Christmas, but even that can miss the point.
The true meaning of Christmas is the good news of Jesus Christ come among us.
And the good news of Jesus Christ starts with the acknowledgement that all is not right in our world, that suffering and evil are sometimes too much for us, that we are incapable of doing the good that we want or avoiding the sin that we do not. The true meaning of Christmas begins in an acknowledgement of our brokenness.
This is part of the wisdom of the twelve step programs: recovery begins with the recognition that we have a problem, that our lives are sometimes unmanageable, that we cannot solve all our problems alone.
Christmas comes as good news. But it is the good news of a radical solution to a serious problem. God takes flesh and dwells among us because our brokenness is so great that there is no other way forward.
At Christmas, we celebrate the incredible miracle that God loved us so much that he gave his Son so that we might not perish, which we otherwise would do. God gave his Son so that we might have life in Christ’s name. And so the Christ child was born, Immanuel, God with us.
That really is good news of great joy. It is not the superficial merriment of the children’s specials that we watch on television or of the parties where we eat and drink more than we should. It is the joy that comes from knowing that God loves us in our brokenness, that God saves us in our brokenness, that God’s love is the final truth of our lives, despite our brokenness.
This service has become one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. I treasure the opportunity to be honest with each other about our struggles. I treasure the opportunity to come together to acknowledge our pain. I treasure the reminder that God is with us even—no, especially—in our pain.
But most of all, I treasure the reminder that pain does not have the last word, that our pain will turn into joy, that Christ has conquered the world. We may be broken. But God became incarnate in Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ makes possible true joy, the kind of joy that does not deny pain, but that refuses to be defined or defeated by pain.
This service is ultimately about true freedom and peace and joy, the freedom and peace and joy that only God can provide.
But for anyone who has experienced real pain, freedom and peace and joy is a work in progress. We start with our pain and our struggles, and, with God’s help, we gradually heal over time.
To that end, we pray together. We are nourished by Holy Communion. As another of the twelve steps suggests, we do what we can to “improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
And, maybe, we can let go of some of our pain and experience some of God’s healing power. That is the promise of Christmas, the promise we heard in our gospel reading, the promise of the child Immanuel, which means, God with us. Thanks be to God.
In the name of our Lord, Christ, Immanuel, God with us. Amen.