When Does Christmas Come?

Each year there is that moment when the Christmas season becomes real to me. It may be when I see that the Christmas decorations have been hung on the street lights, or I happen across a children’s choir singing in the mall, or when I hear a special Christmas carol.

I have always loved Christmas – this celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. However, the past few years have been different. It seems as if the cares of life have dimmed the brightness of the lights and the joy.

This year, especially I was not ready for this season. It has been a difficult year. As I listen to the news, the tragedies seem overwhelming, my children are struggling with difficult things, one of my sisters passed away this year and my other sister is walking through an incredibly hard season. What is there to celebrate?

As always, the answer came. It was the day after Thanksgiving and I was visiting my son’s family in the Portland area for the weekend. We decided to go to the Festival of Lights at the Grotto, an outing I have always enjoyed. This Catholic Retreat center comes alive for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are lights and choirs, farm animals (even a camel this year), a huge star on the side of the cliff, puppet shows, and hot chocolate.

On the path from the entrance are a series of stations each with a picture of some part of the Christmas Story and a speaker that broadcasts the corresponding scripture. As I walked the path, I paused at each station to look and listen, “… unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…”

Then at the end of the path I found it. There was no picture or speaker at this last station, only a sign with a few words from Isaiah 61 “… the oil of joy instead of mourning…”

I stood there and let the words sink in.

And as I stood there, I realized once again, Christmas isn’t just about the Baby in the manger. It is about the woman at the well who found new life after a lifetime of broken dreams. It is about the paralyzed man whose sins were forgiven. It is about a suffering woman who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment and received healing. It is about the blind who received their sight and the lepers who were healed.

Most of all, it is about salvation. For this Baby that we celebrate would one day go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. And because of Him we have life.

And for me, as it was for those hurting people so long ago, Christmas is truly about Emmanuel, God with us.

No matter how difficult things are, there is joy. Not the giddy celebration of lights and trees and Santa Claus, but the Savior who walks beside me each day. The King who came from Heaven to live as a man understands my grief and pain.

As I turned to walk on to see the lights and hear the music, I knew, Christmas is here.

And this Christmas season I ponder the message of comfort and hope from Isaiah 61:1-3

Because the Lord has anointed Me
… To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.