For Anyone Who Dreads Christmas This Year

for the week of December 18, 2000
by Rubel Shelly

With Christmas only a week away, both my spiritual moorings and seasonal sentiment are strong and buoyant. Family, health, work that brings fulfillment, money enough to buy gifts for others I'm heading into the home stretch toward Christmas with a contented smile etched on my heart.

But I have a young friend who is undergoing delicate surgery this morning; if it is not successful, his career in medicine could be over. I know a young family with a three-year-old child who had been celebrating recent word of another baby on the way; the mother was found to have an aggressive malignancy last week. For several others whose names I call in prayer during this time of togetherness, it is the first Christmas without a dearly loved mate who died during the past year.

So maybe not everyone's "joy quotient" is quite as high as mine at the one- week-and-counting mark to Christmas. And how are things with you?

The late Henry Nouwen wrote in his journal about a "dry" Christmas he was experiencing. In his touching The Road to Daybreak, he writes:

It just seemed that I wasn't part of it. At times I even caught myself looking at it all like an unbeliever who wonders what everybody is so busy and excited about....

Still, in the midst of it all I saw even though I did not feel that this day may prove to be a grace after all. Somehow I realized that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying "yes" to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying "yes" to a hope based on God's initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God's work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they did, someone would be lying. The world is not whole, and today I experienced this fact in my own unhappiness. But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.

I look at him and pray, "Thank you, Lord, that you came, independent of my feelings and thoughts. Your heart is greater than mine." Maybe a "dry" Christmas, a Christmas without much to feel or think, will bring me closer to the true mystery of God-with-us. What it asks is pure, naked faith.
Even if everything isn't "just right" for you as Christmas approaches, trust God and know that this holy season affirms something larger than sentiment. It says that God is with you in every situation to supply the grace you need.

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