With that busyness, Christmas has caught me by surprise this year. For the first time ever, I spent my Christmas Eve doing the shopping I failed to get done beforehand. I'll still have some to do when the big day has passed. I haven't even listened to many Christmas songs this year, changing the station when they'd come on the radio. Something in me just wasn't ready, perhaps wasn't in the spirit of it.
In fact, after three hours of last-minute shopping today, wandering through half-empty shelves and navigating a sea of other under-prepared givers, I was in anything but the Christmas Spirit. I felt frustrated, tired, and surprisingly lonely. Christmas was under the grey cloud of family tensions and American consumerism and stress.
Then, I went to the Christmas Eve service at my home church. As we began to sing the hymns, I could not stop grinning. Surrounded by the voices of a community I love, I was brought back to Christmas. We often miss the words, but they are beautiful:
"Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room!"
"Silent night, holy night. Son of God, love's pure light... the dawn of redeeming grace."
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel will come to thee, O Israel!"
"Long lay the world in sin and error pining, then he appeared, and the soul felt its worth!"
I am antsy in my chair just writing those words! They are beautiful, rich with hope and promise and wonder. The last example above, from O Holy Night, is perhaps my favorite line from any Christmas carol, because it is the most precious part of my own story. Can you hear the thrill and rejoicing? Long lay the world, pining away in hopelessness. Then he appeared, and the souls of God's people felt life again. All of this began on a still night in Bethlehem. That is Christmas. It is 100% hope.
Yes, it still feels surreal that tomorrow morning is the big day. But that grin on my face tonight brought life back to my heart. I still need that hope. I am in need of that baby in a manger as much today as the world was in need of him on that silent night so long ago, and he is in my life. In him, my soul begins to feel its worth. May we rejoice!
Yes, rejoice, for Emmanuel has come. Merry Christmas, friends!