Let us pray:
Lord, prepare the way for your coming. Prepare our hearts and our world. Speak truth to us, that we may see you coming. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Christmas is almost here!
I probably don’t need to remind you of that. We’ve been preparing for this holiday all month, if not longer. It has certainly been longer that we’ve been hearing Christmas music. We’ve bought presents and wrapped them, we’ve put up our Christmas trees, maybe we’ve decorated them. We’ve planned Christmas dinner or mapped out our travel plans. We’ve baked Christmas treats.
Or maybe we haven’t. My tree is half-decorated if I’m being positive. I lost half of someone’s present and still haven’t found it. I still don’t know what to get someone else. My Christmas cards are still sitting in a half-finished pile.
But as much as those unfinished tasks may stress us out, may make us crazy, and may make us vow to do better next year, there’s often something else making Christmas difficult.
For some of us, Christmas isn’t joyful at all, it’s difficult. It’s not a time of joy and light, it’s a time of darkness and grief. Christmas can be a time when we remember those who used to be there. It may be when we fight with our families the most, or remember why we stopped seeing them. It may be lonely, because we can’t get together with our families, or we have no family left. Christmas, then, this time when we’re trying to celebrate the good news of Jesus, becomes the opposite of good news. Christmas becomes a time that is laced with grief, or pain, or regret.
Acknowledging that pain is fully in the spirit of Advent, the time when we remember the pain of the world, when we see all that is wrong around us, and look forward to God’s healing of the world.
And if you’re feeling that way this year, our psalm for today is right there with you: “You have fed them [the people of God] with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.” It’s okay to say, in modern parlance, “I’m having a hard time,”. “I miss the people who used to be here on Christmas morning.” “I don’t like Christmas, it’s too lonely.”
The psalmist cries out, “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved,” cries out over and over for God, the One who is “enthroned upon the cherubim,” the shepherd of Israel, the God who promised to come and save the people, to give them new life, to show them the light of God.
What a beautiful Advent prayer for all of us, as we struggle with memories or finish last-minute preparations or do whatever else is feeling so hard and overwhelming this year.
And, too, in our readings on this last Sunday before Christmas we remember the preparations that Mary made before Jesus’ birth, how she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. These pregnant women, who were carrying these two miraculous babies, come together and rejoice together at what God has done, at what God is doing and will do.
And while she is there, Mary sings this song that we sang earlier. And what a contrast to our psalm, for Mary’s song is overflowing with joy and faith. She looks forward with joyful expectation to the time when God will come again, when the world will be full of justice. She praises God for all that has happened to her and for God’s faithfulness.
This contrast sums up the Christmas season, doesn’t it? Some people look forward to Christmas all year; it’s their favorite holiday, and they love everything about it. Some people dread it, struggle with grief or memories or loneliness once the lights are up. And yet our readings hold space for both experiences of Christmas, whichever you are experiencing this year.
God is with us, no matter how we experience Christmas. God is with us, and God will give us what we need this Christmas as we celebrate Jesus the Immanuel, God is with us.
Alleluia, and Amen.