There’s something about the holidays that magnifies our deepest emotions. Our joy and our pain collide, dizzying us at times. Our comfort and our grief come together, often leaving us searching for answers.
In the midst of the carols, the lights and hunts for the perfect gifts, we sometimes flounder on a roller coaster of feelings. How do we find solid ground? What is it that can make this time of year both hard and joyous at the same time?
Two weeks ago, a person I dated in college died. Police found him in his southern home on a downtown street, shot in the back of the head. I discovered the news by happenstance, while scrolling around on social media, and disbelief consumed me for days. Although I hadn’t seen him in seventeen years, memories flashed through my head as though it was yesterday.
While the authorities investigate this murder, I keep thinking: This isn’t how this person was supposed to die. His collision with eternity wasn’t supposed to come in this way.
Even though the chapter of my life this friend was in ended a long time ago, I mourned his sudden death. And as thoughts and emotions flooded my brain, I realized why this season brings so many conflicting responses.
Christmas causes heaven and earth to come together in stark contrast.
This impact between mortal and immortal makes us yearn for an imperfect world to be made perfect. For justice to reign and for evil to be punished. We want the wandering soul to find his way home again and for our families to be united in love around the dinner table.
We want each of these things, but they don’t always happen. And the stark contrast between the reality of this world and the perfect story of a baby in a manger leaves us with a deep sorrow for what’s wrong to be made right.
As I read through different accounts of the Christmas story, I remembered an important truth. The first Christmas wasn’t perfect. As a matter of fact, murder, pain and sorrow surrounded this day, but we don’t often hear about this aspect of it.
We hear stories of angels singing and wise men traveling great distances to worship a baby, but we don’t hear about other babies being killed. We hear about a distant star that lit the way to the Messiah, but we don’t hear about mothers screaming in anguish over losing their firstborns.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” Matthew 2:16 NIV
Over 14,000 children died at the hand of Herod that day. So while the Light entered the world, grief also fell over it. The God whose first act of creation was to separate light from darkness became flesh on a day when darkness consumed a city.
Why? What do we make of this?
We know light can drive out darkness, but here we see a clear picture of the two coexisting.
We see joy and pain intermingling, with the cries of a newborn joining the cries of grieving mothers.
Friend, I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: Joy and sorrow can collide and exist at the same time. And often, we can feel both at once. We don’t have to try to drown out the pain with tinsel and hot chocolate. Instead, we can embrace both parts of ourselves as human and good.
Joy and pain collide because we know how far God brought us, and what a great gift his redemption is. But we also grieve for the many ways this world is still broken and hurting. We give thanks for healthy children and for the people in our lives who love us, but hurt for relationships that aren’t yet reconciled.
The brokenness of this life reminds us of the promise of restoration in the next one.
One day, all will be renewed. And somehow, this hope makes me able to breathe and give thanks. When the tragedies of this life cut deep, I know he’s hurting too. I see him standing in the middle of it all, with outstretched arms.