"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." – John 16:33
And so it is Christmas. Yesterday, I opened a card from my high school best friend which had a poem inscribed on it. It was a cutesy Hallmark kind of thing, but its last line haunted me like Jacob Marley did Scrooge on that Christmas Eve night.
“We are all ready. We hope you are too.”
Just a simple reminder that I needed to hang some more mistletoe, buy a few gifts, perhaps bake a cookie or two. But those words stared back at me, and I realized I had never been so “not ready” for Christmas. Well, at least not since 1998, the year my mother died a couple of days before Thanksgiving.
Before last Friday, I thought I was taking the holiday at a decent clip, that I was doing all the things I needed to do to make our holiday celebration memorable. I had ordered a few strategic, well-chosen gifts. My daughter had a lead in our church’s Christmas program, and we shared the true Christmas story with each other as we went over her lines. There were parties on our calendar, wreaths on our windows, and Burl Ives on our playlists. We watched Rudolph and read the Grinch.
And our prayer chain was getting shorter. Each year, we’d make a chain counting down the days until Christmas, and inside every link we would write a name or a prayer intention. Then each morning Libby would tear a link from the chain, and that day we’d all be in prayer for the person or intention written inside.
Last Friday, Dec. 14, there were 11 links left on our chain. That morning, I took my place, second in line, outside Green-Fields School. I lined up with the other moms, shortly after 9 a.m., to guarantee ourselves the best seats at the fourth-grade holiday concert. We looked like a bunch of stalkers, braving the cold, until Mr. Cohen showed pity on us and let us all come inside.
By that afternoon, we no longer lived in a world where school doors would open so freely. Between the morning and afternoon shows, my husband showed me his phone, with the breaking news that a school shooter had killed numerous people in Connecticut. First a dozen, then 22, finally 27, 20 of them children.
I watched the second concert of the day with a new sense of wonderment. Parents were applauding their children, and I couldn’t help feeling haunted by those parents of Newtown. Their children came to school the same way ours did, excited with the coming of the holidays, rewriting their wish lists to Santa, humming “Jingle Bells.” And 20 of them didn’t come home.
And the rest of the week was lost on me. Sure, I thought about my Christmas plans, but my thoughts were drowned out by new conversations about gun control and the availability of mental health care. I didn’t wrap a single package, my mind so wrapped around the images that flashed on my TV—funerals for heroes, burials for babies.
A police car was in the parking lot at Green-Fields Monday when I dropped off soft pretzels for Libby’s birthday. My daughter brought home letters that afternoon, full of precautionary drills and practice lockdowns and all the things the district was doing to help my children feel safe. But I didn’t feel safe. I felt a little sick to my stomach, and overwhelmingly sad.
And in that sadness, I contemplated Christmas, not as the hustle-bustle holiday with unfinished to-do lists, but in its truest sense—God’s plan to bring us back to himself. The son of God voluntarily leaving his throne to take on our humanity. The creator of the universe born to die a horrible death at the hands of those he came to redeem. And before that all, the birth of a baby in a lowly stable, the birth of hope of something more.
So as much as I don’t feel the typical Christmas spirit this year, I know I need it, now more than ever. I need to know that there’s something more, something greater, than what we read in the headlines and see on TV. There is that baby, born in Bethlehem, who came to save us from ourselves.
And I know it doesn’t matter if the cookies get baked or the presents are wrapped. There is that baby, God with us, and the only thing I really need to do is offer him room in my heart.
So on Tuesday, I will welcome Christmas. Yes, I am still a bit lost, a bit confused, and quite a bit hurt. I may not be ready for the trappings of the holiday but oh, I am so ready for a savior.