When Christmas Loses Its Magic

Christmas was magical until my grandpa died when I was 14. Up until that point Christmas had been the highlight of every year. But something seemed to die when he died. Several years later, another tragic death hit us. After that, Christmases were never the same. It was more a season of ache than joy.

Throughout my twenties, the Christmas season sometimes seemed to mock me with all its giddiness when I felt so broken. Unfulfilled desires, chronic illness, separation from loved ones, and homesickness were unwanted guests that exposed brokenness, especially at Christmas.

Enter Advent – the four-week period in the church calendar right before Christmas that both remembers Christ’s birth and anticipates His second coming. I grew up as an evangelical in a Roman Catholic country. We didn’t practice anything that hinted at Roman Catholicism. Observing the church calendar or its liturgies was not a thing I was aware of.

But since I started observing Advent in the last seven years or so, it has been a game changer for me. It has taught me to live in paradox. It has freed me up to treasure the joy of Christ’s first coming while also mourning that He hasn’t come back yet.

Advent enables me not to resent that the Christmas season is polluted with grief. It heightens the reality that I am a woman in waiting – waiting for consummation and for the return of my bridegroom. The small story of my life is simply joining the history of the world. I am doing what history has always been doing: groaning as it waits for one of the two comings of Jesus.

Paradox at Christmastime is just as it should be. Christ’s first coming was filled with paradox. When Simeon saw Christ in the temple, he both rejoiced and prophesied sorrow. Even as he praised God when he saw the long awaited salvation of God’s people, he also told Mary that this baby whom she had just delivered, and who would deliver her, would do so at a great cost to her. “A sword will pierce through your own soul.” The same baby would bring judgment to some and exaltation to others (Luke 2:34-35).

His second coming will also be filled with paradox. What will mean glory for all those who have longed for his appearing will mean wailing for those who pierced him. While His children sing, His enemies will bow in terror (Revelation 1:7).

For me, the difference between simply celebrating Christmas and practicing Advent has a lot to do with how I face December. I am not only looking forward to Christmas Day (or Noche Buena in Hispanic countries). I am not only just going to (or hosting) parties. I no longer expect myself to just be happy.

Instead, I allow time every day to both remember Christ’s birth and anticipate his second coming. I give space to sit in my grief, in my current unfulfilled longings and fears. I bring them honestly to my Father. I don’t try to mask them or stuff them down “because Christmas!” I am ok with the tension. Yes, Praise God, Christ was born! And life is not what it should be.

The point is not exactly how you observe Advent. I don’t always do the same thing every year. Some years I read through a devotional during Advent. Several years ago, I read through Isaiah using Tony Reinke’s #isaiahchristmas plan. We light candles at dinner with the kids, keeping it very dark at the beginning of December and then making it brighter the closer it gets to Christmas Day.

We have used Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, adding ornaments to a Jesse Tree every day. Other years we have focused on a name of Christ a day as a way of counting down to Christmas. Another year I went on a journey through the Scriptures in Handel’s Messiah every day.

I think the point has far more to do with the paradigm you have for this season, rather than how exactly you practice it. Are you ok with living in paradox? Are you aware that you are a person in waiting? Do you believe your unfulfilled longings, brokenness, and grief fit perfectly with this time?

Living into Advent has helped me to fix my gaze – and my hope – past Christmas to the Resurrection and the return of my King and Brother.

Christmas is a joy not because it is filled with undiluted joy. It is a joy because it testifies that just as the Incarnation truly happened, He is certainly coming back again. Because of Christmas, I am hastening the coming of Resurrection in clouds of great glory. Then, at last, everything sad will be untrue.

O Lord Jesus, come! We miss you so.

When God is Too Late

By Erica Mbasan

I spent a lot of time thinking that I somehow missed something, because I was single longer than all of my family and friends. I had a failed engagement and I lived in such an obscure place, I thought that it was too late for me. I was looking at others, comparing myself, when I should have trusted God that His plans for me are unique and beautiful.

Have you ever thought that you must have missed the bus? Maybe all of your friends were married and you were “left behind.” Maybe children come easily for some of your loved ones while you and your spouse have cried, struggled, and lost hope over the years. Maybe your prodigal child seems like they will never come back to the Lord, and you feel like there is no more hope. Maybe you expected more fruit on the mission field, or quicker language skills, or stronger disciples.

Maybe, just maybe, we have at some point in our lives (or multiple times), wondered why God was ignoring our prayers or taking too long in His purposes.

We thought God would act, we thought He would swoop in and intervene; but time went by and we saw no answer. Sometimes years or decades pass and we think God has forgotten about us; or maybe we heard Him wrong; or we have done something wrong to mess up His plans.

We don’t understand God’s ways or His timing. 

Sometimes we think we do, and then we are left disappointed, feeling abandoned. That is how Abraham must have felt (you can read his story in Genesis chapters 12-25.). God gave him a promise that he was going to be the Father of a great nation, and even of many nations. His wife was going to give birth to a son. The problem? They were both way too old. His wife Sarah was barren. Everything pointed to God being too late. After God made the promise, years went by. They thought they should “help” God fulfill His promises and ended up making a mess. They lost sight and they lost hope. (It NEVER works out well when we try to help God fulfill His promises.)

Jesus had a friend named Lazarus. When Lazarus was deathly ill, Jesus delayed in coming to visit his friend. Lazarus died, and his sister Martha basically told Jesus: God, You’re too late. You should have come sooner. Now there’s no hope.

Over and over we see this in the Word of God. God’s people get tired of waiting, thinking God was too late. In the case of Abraham, God would fulfill His promise and show His sovereign power. In the case of Lazarus as well, God would show His power over life and death and would resurrect his friend from the grave.

Time and again, God is faithful

…just not always in the way, or in the timing, that we expect. God’s plans are different from ours. Our expectations are sometimes smaller than what God actually desires to do in our lives. He allows us to go through times of waiting in order to develop our faith and prepare us for what’s ahead.

Don’t worry, He hears your prayers. He hasn’t forgotten about you. He has a bigger plan than you know.

He is not always going to give us what we want, but He will give us what is best. He is our Heavenly Father who knows what we need before we ask Him.

Keep trusting in Him. He is never late.

 

In what ways has God kept you waiting?

How has God used times of waiting to strengthen and prepare you for what was ahead?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Erica Mbasan has served as a missionary in Northern Uganda for over ten years. In 2014, she married a wonderful Ugandan man. Together they serve the Lord and the people through discipleship, literacy training and practical assistance. In her “free” time, Erica maintains a blog and has written several books.