The season is here. Sleigh bells are ringing for those who are listening. Chestnuts are roasting on an open fire (which doesn’t sound dangerous at all). And the anticipation of walking in a possible winter wonderland is pounding. The holiday season is upon us once again, and once again it came without warning or alert.
There is a lot of preparation that goes into the holiday season. We prepare for family members and loved ones to stay at our place, or we prepare to travel to see them. We begin to prepare our budgets for buying Christmas presents and ingredients for our favorite holiday dishes to cook. We prepare our houses, inside and out, to reflect the jovial brightness of the season. We prepare ourselves for church services and plays that our children are performing in. There is a lot of anticipation and preparation that goes into making the Christmas and holiday season exactly what we believe should be.
But there’s another group of people out there every year who are also preparing. Their preparation looks and feels a lot different than the one described above, though. They aren’t preparing to receive loved ones in, but rather they are preparing to spend their 1st, or their 20th, Christmas without them. Instead of buying presents for their children or spouses, they buy other things, like alcohol or drugs, to help get them through the day. Instead of looking forward to walking in a winter wonderland, they only have IV’s and hospital walls as their backdrop for the holidays. Their houses are not decorated with lights and reindeer, but with reminders of what they lost or are about to lose. They won’t be darkening the doors of a church this Christmas. No, they will attempt to spend their entire day indoors, hoping somehow to go sleep on the 24th and wake up on the 26th. These people are the broken-hearted. They are the ones for whom the holiday season is not a festive reason to be merry and bright, but instead just a season to power through. A time period to push past and somehow make it over.
Last year was a weird holiday season for me. I’m generally the guy who blasts Christmas music from October all the way to New Year’s Day – and sometimes a few days after. But last year, I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit or mood. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was filled with sadness and darkness. I was depressed and down. I was heartbroken. Some of it was over the sin I had given over to; some of it was just dealing with the effects of a broken world. It all added up, though, to equal a holiday season that was anything but merry in the way that I was accustomed to.
But it was in this dark season where light seemed unable to penetrate that I found out that I was not alone. Slowly I became aware of the people around me who also had a rough time during the holidays. I was aware of friends who had no family to go home to. I knew of friends who mourned their losses. I became aware of friends who were going through a rough time in their marriages and families. The holiday season culturally promises us that everything should be filled with good feelings, good food and overall good goodness. But for most of my friends, it just became a time where they were forced to reflect on all the things they had lost, were losing, or never had. Their hearts were not ornamented with pretty light bulbs or shiny decorations. No, instead their hearts were filled with heaviness, sadness, and darkness. Their hearts were broken; and so was mine. And it was in this state, not in the previous joyful ones, that I found out what Advent was really about.
Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming”. Celebrating Advent is celebrating the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. But Jesus did not come into a world filled with hope and joy. He stepped down into a world filled with chaos and confusion, wrapped in darkness and oppression with no way of escape or rescue. He was born into a world where the Israelites had been waiting 400 plus years for their Messiah. They had not heard a Word from God in centuries, and I can imagine some of them had probably began to give up hope. And it is this season of history that the Father decided to send His Son. Jesus, the Light of the World, was born into darkness; our darkness. He was born in a manger, next to earthly filth. And walked among our brokenness, touching it, hugging it, loving us and healing us. Jesus hung with sinners, not the self-proclaimed righteous. He called broken people out of darkness and gave them living water and the bread of Life. And most of all, He lived a life that resulted in Him dying, on our behalf. Our biggest source of oppression was our sin that kept us from the Father. The rituals for ridding of sin weren’t enough anymore, and they never truly were to being with. But Jesus was enough. And is still is enough. And He always will be.
This is why Advent is for the broken-hearted. This is why Advent is for the hurt, the lost, the confused, the angry, the broken and weak. Because that is who Jesus is for. Jesus didn’t come for the healthy or righteous. No, he came for the weak and the sinful. He came for the prodigal son, for the infertile couple, for the bickering parents, for the divorcee, for the widow and widower, for the estranged family member, for the sick and dying, for the addict and the loser. His Word tells us He is near to the broken-hearted. And Advent was the physical manifestation of that declaration. God showed us that He is near by physically being near, through Jesus Christ. And even now, for the believer, He is near by way of the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. And when it is all said and done, He will be forever near to us in the New Heaven and New Earth. The Bible is the story of God pursuing His people and creation. It is a long story of God’s love for us and His desire to rid anything that stops us from knowing Him. The Advent of Jesus Christ will forever be his soldier’s welcome home event, where the one we thought was far away from us comes to where we are to take us home and be with us.
I don’t know where you are this season. Maybe things are as they should be. Maybe you have the family and you have the joy and peace that so many lack. Do not feel bad about that. Instead, look for ways to be light to someone without any. Or maybe you are in need of that light. Maybe this is as dark, or darker, than I described. Know this, please: God is near to you. He is so much nearer to you now than He might have ever been. Look for Him. Search for Him. He does not hide. He is there. Advent is for you, oh lowly and broken-hearted. Jesus came for you. And He will never stop.