Real Christmas (reposted from 2012)

 Ah, the family Christmas letter – the updates and photos, the news and happenings….I enjoy receiving them and I've even written a few myself.  Usually they highlight the best parts of the year, as well as announcing various milestones: births, graduations, marriages, deaths, etc....  Occasionally, you might even get one that sounds a little "spun", like this one…

To our Most Esteemed Family and Friends,

                This has been quite an eventful year indeed for the Smith family.  Bobby received a full scholarship to Yale University, and we couldn’t be more proud!  And Susie is in ALL high honors classes and also went with her volleyball team to the state finals: they won the championship!  And little Billy Bob has been placed into the gifted children’s program…for the third year in a row! 

                In April, we took a spontaneous, amazing two-week vacation to Australia to celebrate Dan’s big promotion.  Our next stop: Paris!  Joyeux Noel! 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

                Sometimes life goes that way, and we celebrate.  Most of the time, however, our lives are a mix of blessings and challenges.  And then there are times, even entire seasons that are disproportionately painful.  Not the stuff of Christmas letters… 

Dear Friends and Family,

                Well, this year has been a real doozy.  Bobby broke his leg playing football which cost him his hard-earned scholarship.  Since the twins hit puberty, we are on Proactive’s frequent shipper program.  Linda took an extra job to pay for Billy Bob’s second round of braces, and between the two of us, we’ve gained 40 pounds since last Christmas!

Here’s hoping this New Year will be better than the last!

                Of course I’m having a little fun here - people wouldn't really send a letter like that.  And certainly not at Christmas.  It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year - when our troubles are supposed to be miles away.  We’re supposed to be baking, decorating, shopping, wrapping. Writing Christmas cards and dreaming of a blanket of snow covering earth and trees, making everything beautiful and new. 

                But what if this is not the most wonderful time of my year?  A few days before Thanksgiving, one of my loved ones received a very difficult diagnosis.  We are still waiting.  Waiting for tests to be performed, results to come back, treatments to be determined.  The call came on the evening of the day I watched my niece be born.  In one day, one moment, everything changed.
                I’m putting up the tree, decorating the house.  I’m baking cookies and wrapping gifts.  I’m buying groceries, folding laundry, going to work.  And my heart is torn by circumstances beyond my control.  I’m struggling to be truly present with my family as we celebrate the holiday and our traditions.  

                Some days when the anxiety and sadness are so heavy, even the smallest act of kindness or concern from a friend can undo me:  cookies in my mailbox; texts that say “thinking of you”; a meal prepared for our family so I don’t have to think about making dinner tonight.  When someone lets me know that they see me, that they hear me, that they care about what I’m going through, some things deep inside that I am trying to contain spill out of me.  Sorrow.  Hope.  Fear.  Tenderness.

                I believe that Christmas ought to be real.  The first Christmas, after all, was not story-book perfect.  The journey to Bethlehem was not a romantic getaway for Joseph and Mary – it was difficult.  Giving birth in a stable surrounded by animals was not “cute”.  The reality is that Jesus was born into a hostile world - a world in desperate need of Him.  The circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth were not ideal.  It’s His coming into our world that makes the Christmas story so beautiful.
                And over and over we hear the same message, the same command, the same liberating exhortation: Do not be afraid.  Spoken to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds, and to us.  Do not be afraid.  All is well.

                                                       Jesus has come.  Joy to the world!

                                                               Let earth receive her King!

                                           Jesus still comesLet my heart prepare Him room.

                Maybe your family, like mine, is facing some challenges and uncertainties ahead.  This Christmas, I need Emmanuel more than ever.  Jesus coming, into my world.  I don’t need to pretend or pretty it up.  In the unraveling, He comes.  In the breaking, He comes.  And in the waiting, the hoping, the trusting, He comes. 

Psalm 46:  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, for our God is near.

                So do it.  Have yourself a merry, authentic, little Christmas.  Let the reality of His presence remind you that All is Well.  Take a few moments to listen to this song...