Christmas creates images of pristine snow-blanketed landscapes, warm hearths, hot steaming flavorful beverages, and joyous laughter with loved ones. Or the reality of nasty frozen mud-chunks, fallen from cars splashing through the slush of a dreary rush hour, in a crowded anxiety-ridden city. Which scene are you dreaming of? Me? Oh, I aspire to the first. Don’t you?! It is my ideal! But Christmastime is not always like this picturesque daydream.
I remember it was Christmastime, December 23rd, when, as a sixteen-year-old returning home from school, I was greeted with the devastating news that my Grandpa had unexpectedly died from a heart attack. We celebrated a hurried, rather solemn, “early Christmas Eve” that night, before heading north to be with my Grandma, and gather as an extended family for the funeral.
It was almost Christmastime again, I recall, over a decade later, when my husband and I packed up our six-week-old son, with our family of five, for a snowy trek across all of Wisconsin and Minnesota to join some of the same relatives for my Grandma’s funeral.
It was close to Christmastime, in a memory that I try not to revisit too often, that we lost a little one, early in pregnancy. And three years later—it happened again, during that seemingly tragic, coldest, and bleakest of months. There is a faint memory of quietly discussing these events in hushed tones, huddled together in a kitchen conversation with my sister and sister-in-law, as we three commiserated over our own separate, but shared losses. Three cousins who wouldn’t be born: three who couldn’t join those happily playing in the next room.
Death and December—Christmas and Crisis: these words have intertwined in my life. It was just after Christmas that my husband’s Grandfather passed away. It was January 9th that my own Dad went home to be with Jesus. It was Christmas Day that I went into premature labor with our fifth child seven weeks before he was due to be born! Yet, somehow, I never feared for his life. I was buoyed by a confidence that wasn’t my own. Rough days and weeks lay ahead, but Jesus was my support, along with church and family.
Over the years, God has shown me through his Word, and sheer piling up of life events, that he is faithful and won’t leave me! Christmas itself overshadows, outshines all the dark memories! All those difficulties that happened in the dead of winter would have been hard no matter when they happened. But those memories now also swirl together with the best of my family memories, the best memories of youth group parties, cozy conversations over coffee—all taking place because we are celebrating Jesus’ arrival on earth!
Christmastime is a celebration of the fact that he came; that Jesus is God with us. He came to give hope to a broken, muddy, dreary, sin-filled world. A true life, that is pristinely pure because of his forgiveness.
I’m dreaming of the opportunity to infuse some hope-filled memories for someone this Christmas…
Cheryl Olsen is the Faith & Fellowship Correspondent for Women’s Ministries of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.