Merry (painful) Christmas!

Once again Christmas is just around the corner, and once again sermons, blog posts, and articles share with me how far away Christmas has strayed from it’s humble origins with a baby in a manger. It’s not about consumerism or consumpton, it’s not about Santa Claus or Christmas trees! Every year “church people” annoyingly remind me what we’re supposed to be focusing on this holiday season.

Then there are those who want everyone to just be happy together. The holidays are a time for togetherness, for thankfulness, and capturing the goodwill of the season. Christmas is a falling snowflake with a smile on it.

I’m annoyed by both responses. One seems overly self-righteous, and the other seems overly sentimental. Both feel inauthentic to me.

As Jessica wrote last week, Christmas isn’t such a happy time for everyone.

I agree.

Christmas is violent. It’s frustrating. It’s offensive.

When everyone’s distracted by the picture of the cute baby, being worshipped by wise men, shepherds & donkeys, we forget about the dozens of other babies in the story slaughtered by a power-hungry king. When we think of the miraculous virgin mother relieved to have given birth to her son, we forget about the mothers crying out in lament over their sons being taken from them. Christmas brings hope; but it also reveals hopelessness.

The very part of human nature that we try to plaster over and hide in our Christmas celebrations, Jesus came to expose, redeem, and deliver us from. We’re not to hide our sin and our pain and our alienation, we’re to face it!

The irony behind a holiday celebrating the birth of baby Jesus has become the season of inoffensive platitudes. But almost everything Jesus said was offensive! He was always pissing someone off saying something crazy. He didn’t get crucified because he played nice! A far cry from the cute little baby in the manger.

It’s Christmas. Let’s just be real with each other, just as God became real with us.

Anyone with a family knows that during the holiday season we will offend each other, we will piss each other off, we will reveal our prejudices, we will exclude people from our table. That’s the world Jesus was born into, let’s not pretend the world today is anything different.

Jesus still walks around in the today. Jesus is with those on the margins – he is not in the Christmas facade so many us work so hard to construct. Jesus is on the streets, in jail, shunned by family, fleeing from war. Jesus is repeatedly shamed and discarded by our social media mafias. Jesus is with those whom I push to the outside. Jesus is with those who churches leave out in the cold.

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I wish you a Merry Christmas, but not that your Christmas is pleasant. I wish you a Merry Christmas through the pain – that you may still be happy even though the meal doesn’t go as planned, even though someone is missing, even if your family gets into conflict (or worse yet, pretends not to have any), even if you feel isolated, even if you feel depressed.

I want to let you know that Jesus came into that pain as well, and didn’t sanitize it, but transformed it. He’s so much more than “the reason for the season” or the defender of holiday coffee cups.

The story of Jesus starts as Emmanuel, God with us. It ends on the cross, with Jesus crying out in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” But the story begins again with Jesus overcoming death; therein lies the hope. Life conquers over death!

We do not have to live alone in our pain, our brokenness, and our agony. In Christ there is a hope that sets us free! But being free does not hide the pain, it calls us to walk right through it. It calls us to be in solidarity with those who suffer around us.

Instead of being overly self-righteous or sentimental, let’s just be honest this year and celebrate the joy of the season without paving over the hurt. Let’s live in the abundance without forgetting about the lack. We can do that, can’t we?

May you find hope & peace in painful & troubled times.

Merry Christmas.

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