Hard-to-Smile Hope

Hard-to-Smile Joy

I love the holiday season.

For me, it evokes memories of baking cookies, playing Christmas cassette tapes (*gasp*), putting lights around the house with my dad, decorating the tree…and spending every other day vacuuming the fallen pine needles from the carpet. There were Christmas parties and paper snowflakes and gingerbread men to be frosted, there were caroling evenings and Christmas movies and Sunday School pageants and band concerts. Christmas time is always a happy memory in my mind.

Some years were harder than others, however. I’ve lost three of my four grandparents between the November-December months. My cat also died last year in November. This year many of us said goodbye to a wonderful friend when our pastor’s wife passed away from cancer.

And for some, this Christmas may seem less easily joyful.

I’ve been trying to figure out (for years now) why the holiday season in general can spark so many strong emotions in people. For children with absent parents, this time of year more harshly reinforces the disappointment of the failed relationship. For anniversaries of a loved one’s death, the holidays seem to chill the heart a little more.

But why is that? Why during the November-December months? Why Christmas?

I could blame it on Hallmark.

Or I could blame it on hope.

Let’s do a quick history lesson, taken from the Bible:

God created the world…God created people to fill the world…we were given everything and still reached for the one thing that God kept off-limits for our good…our originally pure relationship with God was wrecked…we spent thousands of years failing to mend the un-mendable…

…but God knew that and instead of letting us keep floundering in sin-filled hopelessness, He chose to restore our relationship and provide all-encompassing forgiveness for us…but that meant something absolutely perfect had to come and pay for our sin and shame, because God is holy and we weren’t perfect…so He decided that Jesus–His son, sinless and blameless–would come in flesh and blood to be the exchange…

…Jesus would die as the payment for our sins…but since He was also God…the grave couldn’t keep Him and He couldn’t stay dead…so Jesus also conquered the power of death and hell, was resurrected, and returned to the right hand of His Father….

…and behold! Through His death and resurrection, we now have salvation and forgiveness and mercy and grace…freely given through Christ and freely received through faith…

Now we can live at peace with God and be welcomed into His presence when we die–instead of living in hopelessness, then dying and being eternally punished by God for our sins.

(Okay, so this is a very crude summation of the 66 books of the Bible, but I didn’t want to copy and paste them all in this post.)

So back to Christmas. December is the month we have traditionally chosen to celebrate the coming of a divine Savior to a broken world. The gifts we exchange are symbolic of the greatest gift we have ever been given: the gift of salvation through Christ, from God. Yeah, there are a lot of other silly things we add, too–I mean, I’m sure no one gave baby Jesus little snowman stickers or gingerbread men with white frosting buttons. And I’m quite sure the wise men weren’t singing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on their long trek home.

In all seriousness, though, the entire holiday season can still be heavy even if you know this–but it is excruciatingly painful when you try to go through it without God. It is a lonely feeling to see hope and joy all around when it doesn’t seem to come to you.

But it has.

Hope has come, even if it’s a hard-to-smile hope today.

Christmastime uncovers our heart’s plea for a love that wraps us in strength, despite any failed human relationships. It reminds us of our longing for a hope for the future, despite the sorrows of this year. It reminds us of our need for grace where there had been none, and peace where only anxiety has been. It strips away all distractions and exposes our ache for a joy that roots deep inside the soul.

Christmas reminds us how tears and sadness and broken emotions are not how it should be...

And praise God, these things are temporary.

Our hope is in eternal life with Christ. The heavens will open and that day will come, and this hope will not disappoint us.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God.

And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Romans 5:1-5 (NASB)

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