Christmas has always been the most special day of the year for my family.
We enjoy New Year’s Day, Easter, and Thanksgiving and other holidays that come our way as the calendar pages turn. But there has always been something special about Christmas—with its well-established celebrations, personalized traditions, and faith-filled observations. And yet we recently learned a difficult lesson—that the most special days can also be the most painful ones, and that sorrows are often amplified in festive times.
It was just two short years ago that my son Nick was unexpectedly taken from us. He was a college student who was progressing well in his studies, a fiancé looking forward to his upcoming wedding, a faithful son, and a loving brother. But then, in an instant, he was taken—and our world was shattered.
Not a day goes by when he has not been on our hearts and in our minds. Not a day goes by when we do not miss him dearly and grieve him sorely. Not a day goes by when we do not long to hear his voice and see his smile.
And as this most special of days draws near, we feel that longing grow and that ache deepen, for we know that at Christmas we will sense his absence even more. It will be impossible to ignore or overlook—for there will be fewer gifts under the tree than there once were, fewer chairs around the table, one less stocking above the hearth. We know that on this day, of all days, he will be most deeply missed.
This Christmas falls on a Sunday and we will, of course, gather with the rest of our church to mark the day with worship—with songs and prayers and scriptures and preaching. How could we better mark Christmas than like this? My older daughter and her husband will be in town and joining us. My younger daughter will be with us as well.
What we wouldn’t give to worship together as a whole family, intact and reunited. What we wouldn’t give to spend this Christmas as we’ve spent so many others, with all of us sitting, singing, and marveling together at the wonder of the day and all it represents.
And yet we are not without hope, and we are not without joy. Although we know Christmas will be a day of sadness, we are also convinced it will be a day of happiness. It must be a day of happiness, for how could we be without joy on Christmas, of all days?
If Christmas was only an occasion for our family to gather and enjoy one another, we might well despair. But there is far more to it than that. Christmas commemorates a historic event of tremendous significance—not only the birth of a baby, but the advent of our hope.
It is on Christmas that we remember Jesus Christ and the narrative of his birth—a baby born to an obscure young girl in an obscure small town in an obscure province of the mighty Roman Empire. And yet all that obscurity cannot belie the fact this child was special, for He was God’s own Son.
There is much about the Christian faith that is unique, but surely nothing more than this—that God entered the world and became a flesh and blood human being. We speak often and rightly about Jesus dying upon a cross. We profess that it is through his death that he saves his people—and through his resurrection he promises a future in which every wrong will be made right and every grief will be comforted.
But for Jesus to die he had to live, and for Jesus to live he had to be born.
We ought to pause and consider one of the obscure characters from the early life of Christ, one we often pass over. Simeon was an old man, described only as righteous and devout. The baby Jesus was brought to Jerusalem, and there Simeon saw him—and he knew this baby was the Savior.
Taking this baby in his arms he said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations.” (Luke 2:29-31)
Now that Simeon had seen Jesus—seen him with his eyes and held him in his arms—he was ready to depart and die in peace. And now that we have seen Jesus—see him with the eyes of faith and held him in our hearts—we are ready to live and ready to die, ready to endure and ready to depart. Simeon’s words are our words, his confidence is our confidence.
If we have hope as a family, it is hope that is rooted and grounded in Christmas. If we have hope that our disrupted family circle will be repaired and restored, it is hope that begins with the birth of Jesus Christ. If we have hope that a day is coming when all our sorrows with be soothed and all our tears will be dried, it is hope that dawns on Christmas morning—celebrating the day Jesus was born to save this world.
And so even as we grieve on Christmas, we do not grieve without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Even as we weep, we do not weep without comfort. Even though it may be a day of sadness, it is also a day of joy, for Christmas is just what we need in our most difficult times and in our darkest of days.
Christmas is a happy day for broken hearts—when rays of light first pierced the darkness, when hope dawned after a long and excruciating night—the morning when Jesus was born.
Tim Challies lives with his family in the suburbs of Toronto and blogs daily at Challies.com. He is the author of Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God.