Blue Christmas Afterthoughts

from Hannah

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
‘Tis the season to be jolly…
All is calm, all is bright…

To listen to a standard holiday playlist, the Christmas season is one of happiness and light, of emotional intimacy and abundance, of peace on earth and good will to men. So why do I feel so blue?

It’s taken me a while to put the pieces together, but over the last few years, an undeniable pattern has emerged. Around the middle of November, just before the American celebration of Thanksgiving, as images of home and hearth and sugar plums and candy canes begin to flood our collective imagination, I find myself getting cranky.

It starts out subtly enough, but by the second week of December, I’m struggling with full-blown anxiety, restlessness, irritation, and if I’m entirely honest, grief.

Perhaps it’s the busyness of the season. Perhaps it’s the constant assault of songs promising peace and home and happiness. Perhaps it’s the distance between family members that’s heightened at the holidays, but whatever it is, the weight of the world’s brokenness weighs more heavily on me at this time of the year than at others.

Thankfully, I’m learning to recognize this seasonal mood shift and prepare for it. And one way I do is by giving myself permission to acknowledge the brokenness for what it is. Rather than feeling like I have to maintain a social media ready smile or Instagram worthy holiday shots, I’m learning to let the brokenness prepare me for Christmas.

I’m learning to celebrate Advent for what it’s meant to be: a time of waiting for redemption.

Akin to Lent, the four weeks of Advent have traditionally been a time of preparation and repentance, of facing our brokenness and crying out for deliverance. With songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” these days before Christmas teach us to desire the miracle of Christmas—the miracle that the God of the universe would come down into our brokenness to redeem us. The miracle of Emmanuel.

Unfortunately, the very expectations that lead us to anticipate unending joy and unbroken holiday cheer can also work against this kind of reflection. Advent can quickly morph from a season of longing to simply an extension of the holiday feasting that begins in late November. From Advent calendars that reward us with chocolates  (and even wines and cheeses), to all the seasonal activities we try to cram into December,  if we’re not careful, Advent can become just one more attempt to deny of our brokenness with a flurry of sentimentality and busyness.

So perhaps we should celebrate Advent the way Mary celebrated it that first Christmas so long ago—with longing, expectation, and the pain of waiting to be delivered. It’s been nine years since I was last pregnant, but I’ll never forget those last few weeks before due date. They are not weeks of celebration or busyness. They are weeks of discomfort and growing immobility—of shortness of breath, heartburn, water retention, swollen ankles, false labor, and mood swings. Days and night would blend into each other, and I’d be unable to find rest in either.

But, oh, the relief when the baby finally came. Oh, the relief when we’re finally delivered.

This week on Persuasion, we’re beginning Lessons and Carols, a set of three episodes focusing on the weightier side of the Christmas season. While not precisely an Advent series, we’re giving attention to our brokenness and the  ways we try to escape and deny it in these weeks before Christmas. In this week’s episode, “Blue Christmas,” we’re giving particular attention to our broken relationships and how the coming Christ child will restore them.

Our goal with this series is not to play the Grinch but to help you prepare yourself to receive for a better, truer joy than this world can offer. Ultimately, we hope to help you name and know your brokenness so that you can name and know the One who’s come to save you from it.

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