I imagine Christmas has been and is a mixed bag for most of us.
Looking back, I think of the Christmas Day when my Mom and I had a car accident on the way to Bathurst from Newcastle (Miramichi). Thankfully, we were both fine. Mom’s little Pontiac hatchback, however, was not.
I think of the many Christmas dinners at my grandparents or other relatives with too many people stuffed around the table and in the room—brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. As a kid I loved it. Though perhaps I’ve romanticized through the cloudy mists of memories.
I also think of the time when Mom had a broken ankle and we ended up going to an ER on Christmas morning because she slipped off her crutches and fell in the kitchen and hurt it again. I remember putting up a small, tabletop Christmas tree because she was too depressed to help with a big one.
I remember the Christmas that my Mom and I took the train (remember those?) to Ontario to spend the holiday with family there. If my memory is right, somewhere during the Quebec portion of the trip it was slow going due to ice on the tracks. While at my aunt and uncle’s I doodled caricatures of each of them based on a family picture in their living room.
And ten years ago (my goodness, can it really be that long ago?) on Christmas morning Ella opened the box that held a very excited Sneaker, our reliable and ever present poodle-terrier mix. My late mother in law, explaining all the responsibilities that come with a new puppy, told our excited daughter, “It’s going to be a lot of work, Ella.” As he sped around on our hardwood floors and bounced on living room furniture, he ended up jumping into my father in law’s lap, causing him to spill some of his tea.
Then there was our first Christmas in Nova Scotia in 2014. My mother in law had only passed away shortly before. It was a Christmas tinged with grief as we began a new season of life and ministry.
At Christmas we experience our hopes and fears coming alive. Because whatever day it is on the calendar, life continues to be life. The unexpected—both joyful and disappointing—can happen.
Yet Christ continues to come, to meet us where we are, to be present with us in our laughter and tears. That’s the beauty and mystery of the incarnation. God with us.
And throughout all of my Christmases as a husband, father, and pastor, we as a family keep singing Christmas hymns, lighting Advent candles, reading Scripture, and praying. That, too, continues whether it’s a time of sorrow or gladness.
Practicing Advent reminds us that Christ is the one constant, the centre, the ever present help, of all our ups and downs. Because we need reminding. We can so easily forget or let the centre get pushed to the periphery. I don’t want that to happen. Because despite the often mixed blessings of Christmas, Christ is very simply the source of my strength and my joy and my hope throughout them all.