Christmas is Christmas even if you're miserable
While I’ve tried to write honestly about my mental health over the past couple of months, I’ve been mostly afraid to touch on the subject of hope.
When you mention that you’re having suicidal thoughts, people tend to panic and say the first things that pop into their heads. And because thinking on the spot is hard, you get a lot of vague “everything’s going to be okay” platitudes, and you end up feeling worse than before because the whole point is that things are very much *not* okay and you don’t know if they ever will be.
So when I say that Christmas is a season of hope, I’m afraid it will come across as a cheap sentiment. I’m afraid you’ll think I’m trying to trivialize what you’re going through. I’m afraid that something deep and hard and important to me will be mistaken for a cheesy “things always work out in the end.”
But the hope that pervades the Christmas story isn’t superficial. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. It’s costly.
It’s a childless old priest stumbling into a temple to burn sacrifices to a God nobody had heard from for four hundred years.
It’s a raggedy gang of shepherds leaving behind their sheep, their jobs, their only hope of eating for just one glimpse of the baby an angel called their savior.
It’s a harried cohort of Zoroastrians trekking hundreds of miles to a strange country as an unexpected star undermined their entire religion.
Everything is not fine. The story is unbelievably dark. An arbitrary census forces a frightened young mother to give birth in a cave far from home. A brutal king murders dozens of children in a jealous rage. The divine child we celebrate grows up to be tortured to death under an imperial dictatorship.
And yet, amidst the darkness, hope.
Darkness, whether it’s physical injury or disability or depression or loss or any one of the rough patches life gives us, can make it difficult to do simple tasks. And yet, ordinary people continue to do their best:
Zechariah burns incense. The shepherds pray. The wise men bring gifts.
And everything changes.
Because what carries all the weight is they’re doing their best in the service of the God who made mountains and galaxies and that, I think, is where hope becomes something tangible.
Because what really bothers me about superficial hope isn’t that it’s optimistic but that it’s blindly so - who are you to tell me things are going to get better? Where will you be when things don’t?
But a real, Christ-centered hope isn’t blind: I know that God can do good things because I’ve seen him do it before.
I know that God loves us because he came and took on flesh and all the messiness of human life.
And I know that God wins in the end because even after all the darkness, the pain, the suffering, the evil, the demonic oppression, after all that he still rose from the dead.
And if we’re found in Christ, so will we.
So maybe things aren’t okay right now. Maybe things won’t be okay for a long time.
But when it all ends When everything is settled When we’ve died and when we’ve come back
Things are going to be okay And our everyday actions can be a part of God’s plan to make that happen. Even (especially?) when they seem hard
So let’s keep praying for each other even when we have no words Let’s keep cleaning and working even when our brains are screaming Let’s keep loving even when we don’t know if the feelings will come back
Because that’s what hope is.
Merry Christmas, friends!