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Why You Can Hold Both Grief and Joy in Your Heart This Christmas

Posted by Katie Risley on Dec 14, 2021 10:00:00 AM

discovering joy at christmas

Anticipation is a funny thing—one that takes multiple forms: the feeling of riding up a rollercoaster and nearing the top, the moment before you get feedback on a project, or the night before summer hits. Last winter, I felt a different sort of anticipation. It was the new year, and after 2020, I was longing, longing for closure or a catharsis of sorts. But instead of getting closure, I was tired—the type of tiredness that sinks into your bones.

Then one day, when we heard snow was sticking a little ways from our house, my family piled into our car and drove until the sky turned from foreboding to magical. Donning our mismatched gloves and scarfs, we clambered onto a field. The cold stung against my cheeks, and suddenly, I was a little kid again. In that field, I witnessed community between families, and I heard so much laughter. Laughter! And as a ray of light peaked through the rubble of darkness I had been building in my heart, I genuinely smiled. There lay everything I was longing for—wonder and joy. I had forgotten how to look for joy. And when I found the joy I was aching for in that snowy field, I felt the warmest I’d been in months—a beautiful juxtaposition. 

holding hurt and joy at the same time

That’s what Christmas is to me—a beautiful juxtaposition of longing and hurt along with great joy and hope. Christmas is a reminder that God is good. 

Israel was waiting. Under the despotism of sin, they were awaiting the Savior of whom prophet after prophet foretold. The anointed one—the one God promised would break the wrath of the rulers over them and lead them to glory. But instead of a savior, there was silence. For four hundred years, there was silence, leaving the Israelites to be crushed under the tyrannical rule of emperors and their own sin. 

Fast forward half a century. Zechariah had been silent for months. Then Zechariah and Elizabeth had a son, John, and the silence was turned back into prophecy. Disbelief into belief. The birth of Jesus was foretold.   

Not much later came the night of said birth. In the city of Bethlehem, every corner was crowded, but in the same region, shepherds gathered under the great expanse of the night sky, exhaustedly watching their sheep. But they would be wide-awake when a four-winged, multiple-eyed angel appeared in the glory of God. To the petrified shepherds, the angel declared, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you news of great joy for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And then the sky, no longer dark but painted with the splendor of God, was full of angels praising Him. Because the angels understood the gravity of their news—the wait was over. Darkness to light. Fear to joy. Jesus was born!

Jesus’ birth—it’s the beginning of the end of the promise God made in Genesis. When I was thinking about all of this build-up, I thought of the formation of a star. Before a star is a star, there’s just dust and gas. When the dust and gas gather, gravity collapses, and boom, there’s a star. I thought of all the prophecies, swirling around, traveling from tribe to tribe as the weight of sin grew heavier, and the wait for the Savior grew longer. Until boom, the Star of David shone. And Christ was born! Joy spread throughout the sky, and the world exhaled, “Finally.” The sky, the shepherds, and the angels celebrated.

However, it’s always seemed a little strange to me that Jesus’ humiliation would be such a celebration. The world rejoiced as an Almighty and all-knowing God became confined to a baby boy for the sake of love. “The Word became flesh.” His purpose was to save the world, but he would achieve this goal through death. Christmas is a joyous time but not one without that weight. Jesus was born to die. It was a bitter-sweet, beautiful beginning. The joy of Jesus’ birth would be null without the weight of the cross. Because that’s what humanity was waiting for, with all its tears, prayers, and hope; it was waiting for salvation. And after the waiting, on the cross, the climax of all time, Jesus spoke his last words, “It is finished.” And the temple curtain tore in two: humanity's separation from God was torn in two. We were made right. There it is, the most beautiful juxtaposition: Jesus’ death is our life. His complete humiliation was also His glorification. Then, as he was raised from the grave, His glory became complete. The weight of shame and sin and death lifted. God freed us. Jesus, now on His throne, prepares a place for those who believe in His Father’s house.

the hope of christmas

So what does that mean for us? It’s December, the end of 2021. It’s becoming time to reflect on this year—a year when I have felt the weight of suffering like never before. I have seen one friend after another go through terrible things, and I feel that grief so much. But that’s the beauty of Christmas: that as it gets darker, we hang up lights. There is hope in our grief. Because we are still waiting, waiting until the day God brings us home. Where there will be no suffering nor pain nor death, and He will wipe every tear from our eyes and declare, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And, in his presence, we will be more full of joy every day for the rest of eternity. We can hang onto that promise. The Messiah came. God kept his promise, and He will continue to do so. Jesus will come again. Anticipation is a funny thing, but it’s also a beautiful one. So let us wait, in the hope of God’s goodness, for Jesus’, our Messiah’s, return.

***This blog was a chapel speech written and delivered by CCA senior, Katie Risley.  

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Topics: Seasonal