It came up in my Facebook feed today, my post about the mingling of joy and sadness this time of year from last Christmas season.
This time of year is full of joy and fun but I fight against a heaviness and sadness that this time of year brings. As I wrap and ship out gifts, I am reminded of brokenness in my life and those I love dearly. Today was one of those days of choosing defiant joy. And then I come across some precious words and I am reminded of what this baby in a manager means. “We can be brokers of healing exactly where we have known the most brokenness.” -Ann Voskamp- Nothing is wasted. God is a redeeming God.
Although the grief is not as heavy or oppressive for me this year, it is for others in my life, and I feel it for them. It is that time of year where everywhere you go seems to be saying party and fun, happiness, but a closer look reveals deep sadness and hurt. Grief does not take holidays off and seems to make itself a bit more obvious, at what feels like all the wrong times.
Grief is not a respecter of persons or situations, and sometimes it masquerades as anger or isolation, but it pops up all over in many broken situations. Sometimes we try to quarantine grief for just death for only a certain period of time, but in reality grief bubbles up over broken relationships, unmet expectations, disappointments, transitions in life, even good ones can catch us off guard with a side of grief. And yet there it is in the pages of scripture the birth announcement, the reason for the season, “But the angel said to them (the shepherds), ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’.” (Luke 2:10) It almost seems baffling when I think about my own grief, or the grief of others, and wonder how this is to be. Great joy… for all the people. And yet there it is and demands to be pondered and wondered at.
I am reminded of Henri Nouwen’s words,
“We are inclined to think that when we are sad we cannot be glad, but in the life of a God-centered person, sorrow and joy can exist together. That isn’t easy to understand, but when we think about some of our deepest life experiences, such as being present at the birth of a child or the death of a friend, great sorrow and great joy are often seen to be parts of the same experience.
Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it everyday. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.” (Here and Now)
And there it is again, the being the beloved, belonging to God… being favored which is really about living in God’s presence with great awareness. It is choosing to hold onto to truth and hope even, as we acknowledge our grief. This past week Sarah Bessey wrote in her advent post on joy that “Joy isn’t denial of grief or pretending happiness. Now, now I know this: joy is the affirmation of the truest thing in this life. Joy is born, not from pretending everything is fine, but from holding both hope and truth together.”
It is clear that Jesus came to be with us, He chose His own name, Emmanuel, God with us. He was known as a man of many sorrows, and was known to weep with friends, even though He knew the joy they would experience moments later. Jesus did not deny the pain and grief, he moved towards it, but also brought hope and light and healing. This is the great joy sung about by the angels. I can imagine their excitement, and not being able to contain it. Wanting to shake earth and say do you know who has come to live among you? Wake up! There is hope and joy that is like nothing you have experienced before. Do not miss it. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Is 9:2, Matt 4:16) This morning it was very dark as I looked out the window, but as I looked out in the darkness I saw two things that comforted my heart, the morning star and the reflection of my Christmas tree lights. As I was practicing being still and wondering, the “star” looked so bright against the dark sky, reminding me what Jesus called himself, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Rev. 22:16) The bright morning star seemed to be punching holes in the darkness. As I keep looking and pondering, I think about Jesus coming to us as the great light, coming into our darkness, literally in the dark of night and in the darkness of our lives.
So as I sit and wonder and ponder and pray for my many friends walking through very dark seasons of life, and others like me who carry some aches that will always be, I see the light and remember that the light came into the dark… it is there to see no matter how dark. I am choosing to see the light even in the darkest spaces, and thankful that we have a Savior that came in the darkest of nights to drive away the darkness, and although the mourning lasts for the night, and some nights are super long, there is hope that joy comes in the morning. I am thankful for the song of the angels who breathed the message of hope to all mankind, even as our Savior took his first breaths as a baby in a manger so long ago.