When Christmas isn't a major key holiday

When Christmas isn’t a Major Key Holiday

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel has always been my favorite Christmas song. Something about the haunting minor key and the pleading lyric captivates me (see the end of this post for a beautiful rendition of it by Sovereign Grace).

This year it’s been even more poignant. I’ve been struck that it’s not primarily a song of celebration or “glad tidings” and warm fuzzies.

It’s a song of anguish. Of longing. Of desperate expectation. Of beseeching hope.

Until this year, the holidays have been a relatively joyful and peaceful time, a time I’ve always treasured and enjoyed. This year, I joined the ranks of those for whom the holidays are a deeply painful mixed bag due to some life-altering circumstances my side of the family has been going through (and is continuing to go through) in 2019. The traditions I’ve treasured now come with an unwelcome bitter side dish of heartache. The warmth and closeness and enjoyment my family of origin have shared are now tempered with heart-wrenching sorrow.

I know we’re not alone. For many people, the season of “glad tidings” and “Christmas cheer” is one they wish would just pass by. It doesn’t feel like a time to celebrate. It’s filled with heartache, familial conflict, loneliness, or painful reminders of things lost.

For some, it has been this way as long as they can remember. For others, like myself, some tragedy at a marked point in time “broke” the holidays for them. those treasured traditions, memories, and activities are now tainted- or perhaps entirely overshadowed – by grief and pain.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I was dreading the holidays. I wanted to skip to January. I didn’t want to have to deal with the swirling tornado of mixed feelings the holidays enunciated. It felt like Christmas should just pass by unnoticed this year, because deep down nothing felt right or normal about it.

But I’m a mom of young kids, and skipping the holidays just isn’t going to happen. As we decorated and started listening to Christmas carols and opened our Advent calendar every night to do a different activity connecting the traditions of Christmas to Jesus and read Christ-centered storybooks, my heart began to thaw. My kids unadulterated excitement seeped into my heart, but for different reasons – reasons less about the surface level things I enjoy about Christmas and more about what’s left when you strip it all away.

I remembered why I love Christmas. I remembered why there is something to celebrate. The meaning of the words of the carols began to penetrate my heart.

I realized that my grief and heartache aren’t unfestive. They aren’t incompatible with Christmas. In fact, they’re the perfect platform for true Christmas spirit to bloom.

You see, according to Scripture, Christmas didn’t begin as a major key holiday. It was minor key all the way. It was poverty. Scandal. An uncomfortable, long journey. Labor pains. A dirty manger. The blood and guts of birth. A murderous earthly king. A midnight escape to a foreign land.

Grief and heartache aren’t unfestive. They aren’t incompatible with Christmas. In fact, they’re the perfect platform for true Christmas spirit to bloom.

Isaiah 9 says “there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.” ANGUISH. Jesus didn’t come to a picture perfect people. He came to a people in exile. In bondage. In pain. Everything about the first Christmas began with anguish.

Perhaps, like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Christmas is more about a cry of anguish than holiday cheer and warm fuzzies. Of aching longing for eternityrather than rosy contentment with earthly things. Of desperate expectation rather than idyllic sentiment. Of hope – hope in what has come, yes, but more so in what is yet to come.

Perhaps where our anguish and the hope of Christmas meet, we experience a glimpse of the true peace and joy of Christmas. Perhaps the key to Christmas spirit isn’t found in ideal circumstances or putting on a happy face or pretending Christmas doesn’t exist, but rather in embracing the anguish as we desperately cry out, flat on our face, with tears streaming and heart breaking, “O come, o come, Emmanuel!”

No matter what is happening in our earthly life, no matter how much we have lost, there is always something to celebrate on Christmas for those who belong to Christ.

We celebrate that there will be restoration for the broken. Rest for the weary. Hope for the despairing.

We celebrate that the aching, the longing, the groaning are labor pains that WILL give birth to something beautiful, to an eternal treasure that cannot be lost.

We celebrate that light overcomes the darkness, that we have the ultimate victory, that we are not crushed no matter how low we feel.

We celebrate that though we live in a world cut off from its lifesource due to sin, that severed connection has been restored. Life flows through our veins again, because we have Immanuel, God with us.

So, to you who found yesterday (or the entire month of December) to be a painful mixed bag…to you who wished Christmas was over before it began…to you who felt you had nothing to celebrate…to you who found the traditions and decorations and gifts unfulfilling and meaningless…to you who can’t sing in a major key right now, here’s what I’m praying for you:

As you weep and mourn and grieve, as the holiday season makes everything you have lost or wish for even more pronounced, I pray your anguish will come face to face with the hope found in the child whose name is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, who comes with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. I pray that where your anguish and that hope meet, you will experience the joy and peace that transcend all understanding, even in the worst of circumstances. I pray that you will see that when you strip away everything else, one thing remains, and that is Jesus, the Messiah, and that is everything.

He answered that prayer for me yesterday. He can answer it for you, too. Let your heart behold the True Light, whose life is the light of all mankind. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Background photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

Woman praying with Bible open

How to Start Praying Scripture: The Lord’s Prayer

person sitting while reading book

At the church we went to for the better part of my childhood, every Sunday one of the elders would stand up and say a “family prayer” – lifting up the needs and requests of various church members corporately.

Most of the time, the prayer was clearly pre-scripted and read.

That drove. Me. Nuts.

I thought it was inauthentic. Robotic. In my self-righteous pride, I thought, “Seriously? These church leaders can’t just talk to God without writing it out in advance?”

In the same vein, until recently, I thought Jesus’ explanation for how to pray in Matthew 6: 5-14 was kind of strange, to be honest. Why, when teaching his disciples to pray, would he give them a set prayer to say? Were these really just words we’re supposed to say over and over?

For a guy who liked to push against the grain of rote tradition, his answer seems uncharacteristic. When 1 Thessalonians says to “pray without ceasing”, does that mean we just rinse and repeat the Lord’s prayer? Plus, how is the Lord’s Prayer helpful when I commit to pray for my neighbor’s back issues, or a student’s board exams, or a friend’s crumbling marriage?

I understood so little of prayer. Still understand so little of prayer. But I’d like to think the last few years have been a season of significant growth in my prayer life.

I don’t even remember how or where I first came across the idea, but somewhere along the lines a few years ago I heard that when He gave us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was giving us a template for prayer.

Ahhhh! Ding ding ding! In the words of Gru from Despicable Me, “Light bulb!”

Templates aren’t meant to be used exactly as is. They are meant to be the framework to bring something to life. The trellis that allows the vine to grow, so to speak.

So it is with the Lord’s Prayer. It’s the template, the structure, the framework, that guides our prayers. On it’s own it is a wonderful thing to pray. When used as a template to pray about specific things, it is even better.

It has all the elements of a good prayer…

  • Adoration (Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name)
  • Submission to the will of God (Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.)
  • Supplication for our needs (Give us this day our daily bread)
  • Repentance (Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors)
  • Prayer against sin (Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil)

This prayer covers our relationship with God, our relationship to others, our relationship to our sin, and our relationship to the world around us. Boom. It’s like Jesus knew what He was doing or something.

Once this light bulb went off, I started praying for things using the Lord’s Prayer as my framework. Since then, God is continuing to teach me how to prayer the treasure trove of Scripture. And He’s showing me that maybe those scripted prayers our elders said weren’t such a bad thing after all…but more on that later.

If you’ve never done it before, I encourage you to try using the Lord’s Prayer to pray over a specific request or need. You can keep it incredibly simple…you may start with praying the prayer verbatim, only adding “your kingdom come, your will be done, on/in____[insert person, place, or sphere of influence] as it is in heaven.” Then, you can continue expanding from there.

It may feel clunky at first, but that’s ok. Writing it out may feel less clunky. The Lord hears your prayers, eloquent or not, and like any discipline, it will become easier with practice.

Not sure how to start? Below is an example of how I prayed the Lord’s Prayer over our decision to move this summer.

How have you understood the Lord’s Prayer before? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comment below.

Father in Heaven, You are the giver of all good things. You have endless wisdom and power. Not a sparrow falls without You knowing. You are Lord. I am not.

As we consider moving, I pray that your kingdom will come and your will be done in our current home on F. Ave and in our potential new home on M. Ave. May your will be done in these homes and the neighborhoods around them on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us our daily bread, Lord. Grant us the measure of wisdom we need to make this decision. Put all the financial pieces in place so that through this move we will have more, not less, to give back to You. Ultimately, I pray that YOU would be our daily bread so that our move is not motivated by selfish ambition or materialistic pursuit but by love for You.

Forgive us of the idols of our hearts whenever they rear their ugly heads, Lord. As evidence of Your grace at work in us, help us to forgive one another when we offend one another in this stressful time.

Lord, let us not fall into temptation. Let not the deceiving allure of earthly things tempt us. Deliver us from fear, from anxiety, from idolatry, from every form of evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.

Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash