From the time we were married 25 years ago, Richard and I have enjoyed celebrating Christmas with his family. On Christmas Day, we’d load up the car with gifts, food and treats and head over to his sister’s house. With no children of our own, it was exhilarating to see the holiday through the eyes of our young nephews and niece. It was magical, delightful and filled with gleeful anticipation. As they grew older, the season still held beautiful festivities, but instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in wee little heads, we created new memories. More mature, maybe more solemn, but moments in time still etched into the deepest corners of our hearts.
Change is like that. Sometimes it is welcome, expected, natural. You wouldn’t want the same presents under the tree you asked for at five when you were twenty-five, would you? But then change can also be harder, a bit pushier and very unnatural, like a diet or trying to quit smoking. And what if the change isn’t your idea, like a layoff at work or a bad medical report? Hardly anyone is interested in that!
This Christmas ushers in a huge personal change. For the first time since I married Richard, we won’t be going to his sister’s cozy house in Illinois to enjoy time with family and friends. Instead we’ll be celebrating our first California Christmas as a couple. As excited as I am to be together in our new home state, there is also a touch of fear. Will our holiday be as rich on our own? Will this allow us to create some meaningful new traditions? Or will we miss the loud boisterous unwrapping of the presents and the constant stream of conversation around the dinner table?
But then I remember words written in the book of Matthew that literally changed the world. The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us. Matthew 1:22-23
For the first time ever, God would dwell on earth, coming to be with His people. What a drastic change! For over six hundred of years, God had been silent. The earth yearned for His arrival. And then during those early morning hours on the day Jesus was born, everything about the world was transformed. God would be with us like He had never been before.
Which turns my anxiousness about a new way of celebrating Christmas into a question: Does God allow change in our lives so we experience His presence in a new way? More than anything else, I want God beside me. And it seems one of times when I feel God the closest is when changed is forced on me.
Emotions always run high around this holiday. Maybe this is the first time you can’t be with the person you love on Christmas. Or maybe you’ve set your holiday expectations so high, the reality of Christmas morning will pale by comparison. Maybe the change is blissful – you are rejoicing in news you never expected to hear. Whether good or bad news, this new, uncomfortable territory will always hold the promise of God’s all-caring presence.
With His birth, Jesus changed the world from hopeless to hope-filled. With His presence, He moves our heartaches towards His grace. We may long for something we honestly think is the very best outcome for us. However if we willingly wait for His resolution, we find Him giving us gifts that bless the ever-changing landscape of our lives. Christmas says we all need change and God is willing to carry every single one of us back to heaven.
If you fear an uncomfortable change right now, take heart in knowing His glory in the highest runs down to meet us who are at our lowest. And if the change is new, exciting and welcome, thank Him for creating that transformation. Christmas is, at its heart, God remaking us.
On the first Christmas night, God overcame the world’s suffering by laying aside His power and becoming a helpless baby. Throughout His life, He demonstrated how to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, seek peace and grant forgiveness. He quietly laid Himself down so that there might be the best change ever in this world – peace on earth and good will towards men!