This is the story of three Christmases:
Last Christmas was the most difficult Christmas I’ve ever experienced. I was a team leader in Taiwan, juggling responsibilities of team, family, and friends. My sister had recently lost her first child in a late, painful miscarriage. My family was visiting, but instead of a joyful reunion and celebration, we were all in mourning; our celebration muffled by our loss. Christmas Day was spent going numbly from one activity to the next. To sum up last Christmas in a phrase: dark sorrow.
This Christmas, I experienced the best of both worlds in Taiwan and America. I spent all the anticipation of Christmas in Taiwan with my sister and her husband, waiting for their second child Lórien to be born. I arrived in the States the day before Christmas Eve and spent Christmas day preparing and eating a joyous feast with the rest of my family. For the first time in three years, I spent Christmas in my childhood home looking out at piles of snow. This Christmas in a phrase: joyful light.
In the stillness and sorrow of last Christmas, a refrain echoed “God with us.”
In the activity and joy of this Christmas, that refrain still echoes.
By contrasting these two Christmases, I have started to see the bittersweet nature of the first Christmas, when we celebrate God coming down to be with us. At the time of Jesus’ advent, Israel was under foreign rule that had lasted for 400 years. Ancient prophecies spoke of a virgin conceiving and giving birth to a son whose name would be called Immanuel–”God with us”.
The joyous occasion of Jesus’ arrival was muffled like my family’s last Christmas. A jealous, insane king searched for the Baby to kill him before He even grew up and slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem. It is likely that the shepherds who had witnessed the glory of God shining around them and seen the Child themselves suffered the heartbreaking, dark sorrow of losing their own children.
Platitudes are unhelpful when sorrow cuts deep–but instead of offering a platitude, God offered Himself.
That’s why Jesus’ title of “God with us” is important to remember, because it was HE who came into our dark world as the light “shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.” (John 1:5 CEV).