If you live in a northern climate like I do, you are in the heart of winter. The ground may be covered with snow, it’s cold, and the days seem incredibly short. Frankly, I’m not a fan of winter. It seems that Christmas with all of the preparation and hype is a great distraction for a miserable time of year. Among those who live in northern climates, about 15 percent struggle with depressive symptoms (also called Seasonal Affective Disorder) during winter.
As much as we may dread winter, it’s a regular part of life. God created winter, just as he ordained the other seasons. Winter serves a purpose. Even with its beautiful blankets of white snow and comfort by a warm fire, winter represents death. All signs of life disappear, and everything appears dormant during winter.
This Christmas, I seem to be surrounded by those who are experiencing winter—not just the natural changes in the landscape but the loss of loved ones and the loss of dreams. In the month of December alone, my circle of friends have been touched by tragedy and grief. A mother gives birth to a stillborn baby. A teenager takes his own life. A wife of 50 years dies suddenly of a heart attack. A young husband loses the battle with cancer. And then there are other deaths. Deaths of marriages and dreams and careers. For them, Christmas doesn’t distract them from their pain and grief.
More than a Distraction
Christmas, the observance of the birth of the Messiah, was never intended to simply be a distraction but to declare that death and everything it represents has been defeated. Christmas, at its core, is about hope. Hope that we will see the ones we love in heaven, hope that this world is not what we live for, hope that we have an eternal treasure that death and loss cannot destroy. Hope in the midst of winter.
Our Christmas lights and holiday parties can keep our minds off the cold, the darkness and the death, but eventually the parties end, and we must trudge through January, February, and March. Even then, we hang on knowing that winter isn’t forever. Experience has taught us that the darkness of winter will soon be defeated by spring. Flowers will bloom, the sun will shine, and trees will grow new buds. We have hope.
Maybe this Christmas, the landscape of your heart feels a lot like winter. All life and joy are dormant in your soul, swallowed by the darkness of the season. The Lord allows winters in our lives for a reason. In fact, only because of winter can we one day rejoice in the miracle of new life in the spring.
The Tragedy of Tradition
The greatest tragedy of Christmas is that we have replaced the Savior with the symbol. Even as devout Christians, the celebration of Christmas has become more significant than the miracle of the Incarnate Christ.
The coming of the Messiah changed the course of history! All of Israel looked forward to his coming as their one hope from bondage, oppression, and death. Every Christian’s hope can only be the Messiah’s sacrifice and destruction of death and sin. Yet this great hope that changed our history and our future gets muted by the trinkets we call “a Christmas celebration.”
Without Christ, there will be no “spring” for those grieving today. Without Christ, cancer, heart attacks, and stillborn babies truly mean the end of life. But because of Christmas, we believe that somehow, someday, spring will emerge.
Paul wrote it better than I ever could:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–17, NIV)
Please, don’t let Christmas be a temporary distraction in the heart of your winter. On December 26 when the gifts have been opened and the parties are over, Christmas is still a reality. Jesus Christ came to earth as a human, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay for our rebellion, and was resurrected, forever defeating death. Don’t stop celebrating this hope, for it is not contained by a date on the calendar.