Less than a week out from Christmas, we’re once again steeped in the season that compels us to marvel at the incarnation, bustle to and fro with family and friends, and radiate all the levity our hearts can muster. Yet if there’s one word that best encapsulates many dispositions as 2021 comes to a close, it’s “weary.” Although we’re closing the chapter on another year, it doesn’t feel like any of the tiring stories are ending.
Covid-19 is still with us after two grueling years, and it’s poised to be the forever pandemic. Many churches and schoolchildren remain masked and socially distant. Gas and grocery prices are up, and wallets are lighter. Afghanistan and our borders are still in shambles.
Small businesses in cities such as Kenosha are still trying to rebuild in the absence of justice for senseless destruction. Family activities are less light-hearted after traumas like the Waukesha Christmas parade replaced euphoria with fear.
Broken families in Middle America are picking up the pieces after tornados leveled their homes and took loved ones. Others lost their livelihoods for having a different opinion on vaccines than the president and the other people in charge.
Around every corner lurks another obstacle, driving even optimists to wonder when the next shoe will drop. Just when parents got their kids back into classrooms, they were tasked with rising up against propaganda and exposing districts that concealed sexual assault allegations. Churches were finally gathering again as God intended, yet Christians have been stuck combatting divisive and anti-gospel racial ideologies within their own ranks.
And work is exhausting — for noble educators, needlessly understaffed nurses and doctors, business owners who can’t get people to work, truck drivers, firefighters and increasingly imperiled police officers, and medically coerced airline employees, just to name a few.
Meanwhile, the news cycle is endlessly mired in woke absurdity, corruption, death, lies, elitist hubris, and soul-sucking diktats, and every time you start to think you can catch your breath, the bad news begins all over again. This is our reality, and it hangs heavily over us even when daily responsibilities or moments of leisure temporarily distract us.
But there’s another reality — a reality that’s more real than any of the multitude of concerns we shoulder and wounds we nurse — and that’s the reality of eternal joys. As Christmas calls us to remember, those eternal joys were actually embodied in a holy babe, fully God yet fully man, who arrived humbly to rescue broken people from their curse of sinfulness. He arrived to live the life we could not live and die the death we no longer have to.
The reason for this season can feel far away. The miraculous birth was in another age in a faraway place, after all. And our current struggles can make it seem inaccessible, like the realities of Christmas aren’t compatible with the realities of our troubles. How can a historical event outshine our acute despair and uncertainty?
These dual realities bring to mind the masterful imagery of C.S. Lewis, who described heavenly things with a kind of concreteness and unfading quality that mortals can hardly fathom. In 2021, as in “The Great Divorce,” everything temporal and hellbound is gossamer — it is passing vapor and fleeting ghosts — when compared to the lasting actuality of all we find in Christ, which though now is often hidden, is as real and concrete as diamonds.
Thus, although COVID despair and riot violence may seem far more tangible than the Christmas story, for instance, those things are “not worth comparing” with the future glory that began with the birth of Jesus.
It’s here we stand, gazing upon the swaddled Savior of the world, who was sent to a sin-stained Earth to teach his followers about their own brokenness, about the hard-to-swallow truth that their lives and their problems are like a mist, which “appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
His path too would include temptation, loss, and eventually death. But it would also include resurrection, enabling him as the conqueror of death to pluck our helpless lives out of the pit of despair and sin, onto the Solid Rock, and into a Living Hope.
This season and these truths recall a familiar tune:
O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
This winter season as we’ve endured Thanksgiving and anticipated Christmas, it’s often been difficult to overcome this weariness and embrace joy.
But deliverance is here. It came in a dark and dirty stable, amid government decrees, weary travels, first-time parenting, and stressful logistics of acquiring basic necessities such as shelter. Thousands of years later, our new birth is still secured by the same Messiah that was born of humble beginnings, and hope still emerges in the dark and dismal places. In your despair and weariness, embrace the thrill of hope and the glorious morn it brings.
Repent and believe. Trade your burdens and despair for hope. This is the gospel, and it is for you.