Christmas Bitter and Christmas Sweet

There are not many “pure” celebrations in this world, not many occasions in which we are only festive, only rejoicing, only merry. Especially as our lives go on, especially as the years and decades pass, we accumulate more to mourn, more to grieve, more to lament. Eventually every joy is tempered by at least some measure of grief, every new pleasure wistful about some memory of pain. Few celebrate their 40th birthday with the abandon of their 10th, their 50th anniversary with the unadulterated joy of their 1st. Though life brings many pleasures, it also brings many pains.

Become a Patron

As the holidays draw near, many feel sorrow approaching in lockstep with joy. The same storm that brings much-needed rain to the fields also threatens to wash out the picnic and the parade. And just so, as the Christmas season comes, many feel the rush that comes with giving gifts and enjoying feasts and marking celebrations, but at the same time the ache that comes when they hang fewer stockings than in years past, when they set fewer places round the table, when they see a face missing from the family photographs. Though they truly do celebrate, there is bitter mixed with their sweet, dark shadows that temper their light.

They may find themselves wishing that God would take their pain away, that at least on the days of great celebration they would be able to experience a joy that is pure and unadulterated, untouched by the presence of sorrow. Just for a day, couldn’t they have pleasure without pain, smiles without tears, new memories without the encroachment of old ones?

But to take their grief away, God would need to take their love away, for love and grief are like the daffodils of early spring in which two flowers bloom from a single stem. There is no grief where there has not been love and no love that comes without risk of grief. They weep because they have loved and because they love still. Absence makes the heart grow warmer, not colder, and while time may temper wounds, it has no power to heal them.

They cannot plead that God would take their love away, for love is too precious and their loved ones too dear. They cannot plead that God would make them forget, for there is no forgetting ones who gave them such joy, who loved them with such fierce affection. They cannot plead that all would go back to the way it was, for the pathway through life leads in but one direction so that the way is always forward and never back.

But they can plead that God would gave them faith to trust, faith to believe, faith to endure—faith to trust that even this weighty trial will some day prove to be a light and momentary affliction, faith to believe in the word of the God who says he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, faith to endure with confidence that steadfastness will have its full effect within them, making them perfect and complete, so that they lack nothing.

As they awaken on Christmas morn, their eyes glistening with tears of sorrow and joy, their hearts longing for what was and what is, perhaps they—perhaps we—can pause for a moment to consider that though God has called us to bear this sore grief, it blooms from the very same stem that bears such sweet love. Perhaps we can pause to thank God that the degree of our grief simply proves the extent of our love. And perhaps we can pause to praise God for his gift of love, for in moments like these we have to acknowledge that it truly is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.