Christmas is beautiful for some people and hard for others.
For me, sometimes it depends on the day. Or the week. Or the year.
I think all the time about the fallenness of the world. Part of the reason I do that is because I am so incredibly fallen. I am depraved and dark and sinful and twisted, and without the redeeming hope of Christ and his transforming power at work in my heart through the Holy Spirit – I have no idea where I would be.
And I also think about it because, frankly, sometimes I look around and all I can see are darkness and fallenness and brokenness. And it is most evident in my life and in my family.
When I think back on past Christmases, there have been few that have not been affected by death or divorce. When both sets of your grandparents have been divorced and remarried, and your parents divorced and both remarried (and one was left again, after twelve years of marriage), it has a catastrophic affect on how you view marriage and family and sometimes even God as Father. From the time I was a child, I have never known a Christmas untouched by divorce. It’s the reason I went to four sets of grandparents’ homes over Christmas, instead of two. It’s the reason that Santa visited two houses, instead of one. Now, as a kid, getting twice as much stuff is nice – but looking back, I probably would have traded the extra presents for a functional family.
I have never known a Christmas untouched by divorce. And there is no area of my life untouched by divorce. Now, I know there are plenty of people who can say that their parents are divorced. But the fractures and pains and wounds go back further than just my parents. Infidelity and abuse and sadness and mistrust and fear on both sides, in so many generations. I remember the first time I did a “genealogical map” in seminary and I remember seeing all of the broken and fragmented lines, representing broken marriages. My classmates had one or two on their maps. I had four – just from my grandparents and my parents. Nothing is left that is not broken in some way.
And, nothing is left untouched by death. After my mom’s second divorce, I remember wondering if there would ever be Christmas traditions ever again. Losing a family member – and that family member’s family – and half of your Christmas traditions from that separation – can really have an effect on how you look at the holidays. So we rebuilt traditions. We did new things, until they felt like old things, until we had almost forgotten what the old things were. But even without divorce, traditions and normalcy are touched by death. Grandparents aging, and getting older, and eventually moving into retirement homes, and passing away. Or, grandparents being diagnosed with cancer and dying less than six months later. Or mothers or brothers or sisters dying in car wrecks – one minute laughing and alive, and the next, gone. Maybe in your life, things have been left untouched by divorce – but death is the great reconciler, the pain we all feel.
It’s all a metaphor for sin, I think. Our world is so fallen and so broken. We see that in marriages that end and vows that are broken. And we see that in people. And in ourselves. Nothing has escaped. Everything is touched and affected and cursed by the entry of sin into the world. Darkness hovered over the face of the earth. Darkness touched everything in sight. Women cramp and feel pain during “that time” each month. Their desire is for their husbands, who will rule over them. The relationship between man and woman is broken. Man will toil over his work, for nothing. And we see it in death. From dust you have come, and to dust you will return. It’s all touched, it’s all tainted.
And this is the good news and the hope of the gospel that we have. The hope that is clearly seen at Christmas. Though the curse came, and touched us all, there is a hope that is coming. Or rather, that came. Christ came as a child, fully God and fully man, to reconcile us to the Father. Despite our sin and rebellion and shame, he entered into the world and came as our redeemer. To bring us back to the Father. But to also right the wrongs of sin. Sally Lloyd-Jones says that one day, everything sad will come untrue. The hope we have is not just that he came, but that he’s coming again – to rule and to reign, and to forever defeat the powers of darkness. It is the hope we have when we sing, “He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.”
Yes – as far as the curse is found, as deep as it touches, in the pains and sorrows and heartaches of life – in the places left by divorce and mistrust and abuse and goodbyes and death and disease and betrayal and our own sinful inclinations – his blood goes further still. And it heals, and redeems, and his spirit works, for his glory and for our good.
This is the hope that I hold to at Christmas, when the waiting seems hard, and when everything is touched by heartache and sorrow. That he came, so that we could know him – and that we are fully known and loved by him, despite our sin. And that, because he came, we have hope. Hope in the face of divorce, and sadness, and heartache, and death – and hope that this is not the end. That he is redeeming and working – as far as the curse is found.
Even, where the curse is found.
This, this is joy to the world. Even when I cannot see it or feel it.