“I’m just not feeling as festive this year,” said my eleven-year-old son, this morning, Christmas Eve.
“I know. It’s harder for everyone, I think.” What else could I say? It may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but in 2020, that’s not saying a lot.
Normally at Christmas, when we sing lines like “tidings of comfort and joy” we focus primarily on the “joy.” I do, anyway. I like to think of Christmas as a happy time, a time of celebration and rejoicing. In all my Christmases, I can’t remember ever thinking much at all about the other word: “comfort.”
Until this year.
This year, I’m so thankful for that word. To say that Christmas brings comfort is to recognise that comfort is needed. It means the world that Jesus came to was not what it should be. Isn’t that the whole point? The reason God came to save us is because we needed a Saviour. Our situation was hopeless. Our world, and ourselves, broken beyond our ability to repair. Humanity had already tried everything else, from zealous religious obedience to prideful achievements to hedonistic enjoyment—but all we found at the end of these roads was more emptiness, more pain, more lonely isolation, more of everything we were trying to escape from. By the time Jesus came, humanity had shown through long experience that our money and friends and accomplishments could not give us lasting comfort. If 2020 has shown us anything at all, it is that none of this has changed. We are still unable to save ourselves, we are still driving ourselves down the same roads that promise us comfort and joy, only to end in more emptiness, more pain, more lonely isolation, more of everything we were trying so hard to escape from.
This is why we need Christmas. This is why we need the child who was promised long before his birth, the child born impossibly to a virgin, the child who was God, invading our world not to destroy us in judgment, but to bring us comfort.
Comfort to the poor, weak, and overlooked, who have been seen by God.
Comfort to the rich, successful, and talented, who have discovered that money and popularity cannot fill the emptiness of their souls.
Comfort to those who are waiting, to those whose lives have not turned out the way they planned, that their story and their tears are not forgotten by their Maker.
Comfort to the guilty, who now have a Saviour strong enough to take the burden of sin. Not only the burden of past guilt, but even the burden of present guilt and the shame it brings. Jesus is the one who promised not only to forgive those who come to him, but also, by his own power, to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Comfort to the lonely and isolated, who can now reach out for the promise of Immanuel, God with us, the promise that Jesus left his disciples: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He never said life would be easy, comfortable, or sociable for those who trust in him. He did say that he would be with his people, and that he would give them enough grace for each day, enough help for each step, until they reach their true home, with him, for eternity.
Christmas is a time to rejoice, yes, it is a time for joy. But it’s important to remember, especially this year, that the joy of the season is not a blind joy that overlooks the suffering so common to life on earth. The reason we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World is because we live in darkness. The reason we celebrate the arrival of a Saviour is because we are in desperate need of salvation. The reason we sing about “tidings of comfort” is because we have so many reasons to mourn.
Christmas is not just for the happy and joyful. Christmas is for the guilty and broken, the sad and the lonely, the tired and the sick.
Christmas is for us.