What I Tell Myself When I Don’t Feel “Merry” At Christmas
“People more often need to be reminded than instructed.” Samuel Johnson
I head a true story about a man who, because of an error during surgery, had the wrong part of his brain removed, totally destroying his memory. In all other areas he functioned well, just without the capacity to remember. Every time he picked up a newspaper, he read it as if he had never seen one before. The next day, he recalled absolutely nothing about any of the people or events on the front page. Each time he met someone, even a friend or relative, he had to be reintroduced. When he heard a song with which he had once been familiar, for all practical purposes he was hearing it for the first time. Every day, when he awoke, he had to relearn everything that required the capacity to remember.
How frustrating and life-altering!
To some extent, all of us who follow Christ have memory lapses. We forget promises in God’s Word that pack the potential to sustain us during afflictions. We forget that our basis for significance and a sound identity is rooted in Christ’s work for us on the cross rather than in our own accomplishments. Our faith isn’t strong enough to resist temptation when we forget God’s bedrock promise to protect and to strengthen us from the enemy’s attacks (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Severe trials tend to destabilize us when we forget that God employs them to help us grow (James 1:2-4). Instead of viewing them as an opportunity to cling to Him ever more closely, we mistakenly conclude that He has abandoned us.
Except there is one notable difference between us and the unfortunate man whose surgeon removed the wrong brain matter. Unlike him, we can do something about our plight. We can delve into God’s Word and regularly remind ourselves of transforming truths. As the late author Jerry Bridges put it, “We must preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to ourselves every day.”
Why? Because we are prone to forget.
Paul emphasized the need for God’s people to be reminded of things they already knew. Referring to truths about enduring hardship, he instructed Timothy, in relation to his church members in Ephesus, to “remind them of these things” (2 Timothy 2:14). No one can be reminded of something unless he has previously learned it! Similarly, right before reviewing basic truths such as regeneration, justification and grace, Paul told Titus to remind his people of the implications of their salvation for key human relationships (Titus 3:1-7).
In this post, I’m sharing with you what I preach to myself every December. Reminding myself of the following biblical perspective is integral to my emotional survival as Christmas approaches. I figure if I need to review this insight every year, perhaps you could use the reminder as well. If it seems like part of your brain is missing this week, keep telling yourself the following insight about the meaning and spirit of Christmas. It is a perspective on Christmas that I originally shared in a December post two years ago.
Can you identify with either of the following journal entries? I wrote these a long time ago on different years:
It just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year. The joyful anticipation I once had prior to December 25 has evaporated as I get older. Maybe it’s because the kids are grown and I don’t get to observe their exuberance and excitement as they anticipate this special day.
My depression tends to escalate the closer we get to Christmas. It’s as if there’s no longer any meaning in my spirit attached to this special day, yet I know there is supposed to be. It’s worse knowing that we won’t gather with friends or relatives on Christmas day this year. I feel the loneliness even before the day arrives.
If you also “feel the Christmas spirit” less often, or despite your beliefs in the gospel of Christ, you don’t feel the inherent meaning of this holiday as intensely as you once did, remind yourself of what I tell myself this week.
A Message to Myself
The meaning of Christmas does not depend one iota on my feelings or personal experience. Whether or not I feel the eternal significance of Jesus’ birth or that elusive “Christmas spirit” is not what matters. What matters is biblical truth associated with this holiday.
God the Son came to earth, and for the first time in all eternity the divine wrapped Himself in human skin. His presence became the ultimate present for humanity! Jesus was born to die for my sins. God the Father gave me the gift of Jesus’ righteousness when I put my faith in His sacrifice on the cross. That’s why I can have a relationship with a holy God. The incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is my only hope for overcoming sin and for a joy-filled life in heaven after my human body dies. In my next life, in the new heaven and the new earth, my worship won’t be hindered by inconsistent emotions or self-centeredness. Then I will join with other believers in a raucous celebration and bow before my King without any despair whatsoever.
The meaning of Christmas is not an inner state of mind. It is objective reality rooted in historical facts: the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. The meaning of Christmas does not depend on me and on grit-my-teeth effort to conjure up excitement.
The meaning of Christmas……just is.
Sometimes, reminding myself of this truth actually changes how I feel.
A Poem on the Meaning of Christmas
In the following poem I try to capture the objective meaning of Christmas. I wrote it during a depressive episode back in 2002, when sadness overwhelmed me. Writing it was a way to remind myself of the perspective I explained in the last few paragraphs. I rooted this poem in the truth of God’s redemptive plan being mapped out even before creation. Jesus was “a Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). The grace of our salvation was granted to us in Christ Jesus “from all eternity” (2 Timothy 1:9), which means, “since before time began.”
Joseph’s eyes were glued to where his infant lay.
He couldn’t hide his grin, or keep his pride at bay.
He anticipated joining Jesus at play.
Another Father would turn His face away.
Mary heard Him wail; saw His face turn red.
She heard Him coo after He’d been fed.
Used her palm to support His fragile head.
Caressed flesh that Roman spikes would shred.
Flailing limbs, wrinkled olive skin.
She tickled His tummy for a face-splitting grin.
Held Him to her breast, one who seemed the least,
who would die on a cross to become our High Priest.
God had fulfilled His long-standing vow.
Shepherds, kings and wise men would bow.
Saw the prophets’ promise existing in the now.
Did they see drops of blood trickling from His brow?
So innocent and sweet, how could He divide
nations and families? Each would choose a side.
To divine instructions Joseph had complied.
Did he know his baby had already died?
Here’s how the late pastor Ron Dunn summarized this truth: “Before there was a garden in Eden, there was a cross on Calvary!” God provided the means for our salvation before He created us. It’s a precious truth that we cannot fully fathom. Yet we can revel in it this Christmas….no matter how we feel.
What other insights sustain you during the holiday season?
Photo by Daria Shevtsova