One of my favorite Christmas songs is perhaps an unexpected one: Blue Christmas. It’s a song from the ‘50s performed by Elvis and many others about a Christmas when everything is red and green and joyful, but the singer feels blue because a loved one is not near.
Each Christmas we gather to give thanks for Jesus’ coming.
We hang up beautiful decorations of crimson, evergreen, and gold, but the celebration is also tinted blue by nostalgia: with fond old memories, with echoes of years gone by, and with melancholy shadows.
Christmas is not only for rejoicing, but also for reflecting.
So each Christmas, while we celebrate Jesus’ coming, we also miss those loved ones who are not with us: we miss those who have died, leaving an empty seat at the table, we miss those who are serving in the military, leaving only a flag in the yard, we miss those who are far away because of an opportunity for success, we miss those who are not celebrating with us because a relationship failed, we miss those who we only get to see this Christmas in a picture frame.
We remember what they would have brought to family meals, what they would have worn tonight, how they would sing carols both loudly and off-key. So while we eat the celebration sweets, we find in our mouth the unexpected taste of bitterness. Yet despite our distance from some of those we love, despite the real pain we experience, despite the blueness we may feel, Christmas is less blue because Jesus came.
Jesus’ birth is not merely a historical event with no consequence, but Jesus’ coming makes a real difference in how real people cope with their distance from loved ones right now.
When God’s messengers appear to the shepherds, they announce they have good news. (Luke 2:10)
Now imagine what it’s like when someone bursts through your door and yells they have good news. Everyone stops what they’re doing. Newspapers are laid down. TVs are ignored. Conversations end. Because good news has arrived.
Now imagine someone runs into your house and yells, “I have good news! Your credit cards are paid off!” or your mortgage, or your vehicles.
If that happened, you’d be thrilled! And yet when we hear the good news that our debt of sin has been paid by Jesus, most people just shrug. It’s no big deal. They pick up the paper. Turn back to the tv. Resume the conversation.
The good news of Jesus seems trivial when your life is ok, your health is stable, when all is well.
But when your life crashes, health disappears, and caskets are picked out, the good news of Jesus gives peace, comfort, and hope. When all we have left of someone is their memory, we must hold that memory rightly: not as a perpetual injury, not as an uncorrectable regret, but only as a heavenly promise that does not decrease our trust in God, but increases our expectation, our yearning, our anticipation of glory.
And so, whatever we’ve been through this year, we celebrate the good news of Jesus coming.
- We have seen health come and health go, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
- We have battled addictions and sometimes won and sometimes lost, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
- We have been disappointed by friends and disappointed our friends, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
- We have gotten fired, fed up, or just bored, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
- We have made promises to God and broken them shamelessly, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
- We have seen marriages fall apart and babies come unexpected, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
- We have seen Christianity laughed at, persecuted, and antiquated, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
- We have seen martyrs “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38) rounded up, threatened, and decapitated, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
- We have buried old friends and precious young ones too, yet tonight we praise the Lord.
For whatever blues come our way, whatever pain or loss or trial, how ever many sobbing funerals we attend or condescending laughs we hear, the church militant marches on, even with a limp in its step, a pain in its heart, and a tear in its eye, confident that because of the good news that Jesus paid our debt of sin, somewhere across the veil of time, when those we now see only in picture frames we again see face to face, when empty seats at the table are once again filled, when we are truly home and no longer alone, in God’s good time, when The End begins, and tatters, and torment, and terror are no more, but only “broad, sunlit uplands” (Churchill) then each tear of grief and pain shall be replaced with unnumbered shouts of joy.