I remember the perfect Christmas.
It was when I was a child, and I remember the candles in the church down the road where we sang carols.
I remember unwrapping the X-Wing fighter with explosive excitement.
I remember the meal tasting fantastic, served at just the right time.
I remember the Bond film being one I hadn’t seen before.
I remember snow on the ground, my cousins sledging with my brother and me.
I remember awesome cracker presents, unlimited chocolates on the tree and the realization that I had chosen precisely the right present for my new wife.
I remember my wife of seven years waking me up on Christmas morning with the news that she was pregnant.
Now you’ve probably realized that I am not remembering the perfect Christmas. I am remembering the best bits of a lifetime of nearly forty Christmases. To be honest, I think the snow might have been a few days later, and the X-Wing a birthday present.
Christmas Disappoints Us
My hunch is that your Christmas—like mine—did not measure up to the ghosts of Christmases past. When you add in the expectations we have from films, TV, adverts and what we see of our friends’ celebrations on social media, the deflated feeling just gets worse. My guess is that Christmas was disappointing.
It might have been far more disappointing than that. Maybe it was the first you spent alone, the children with your ex. Maybe it was the first since the funeral. Maybe it wasn’t the first, but it hasn’t got any easier over the years or decades. It might be that Christmas just highlights the tensions in your marriage or family that you live with day-to-day. It might have been the Christmas your employer went into receivership. Or another one on welfare wishing you could get a job and give your kids the presents their friends have. Maybe it is that your children just don’t seem able to stop squabbling, or that you wish you had children whether they squabble or not.
”I shouldn’t feel this way but…”
Christmas is meant to be about feasting, friends, family, gifts. If you’re a Christian, you know it is most deeply about the coming of God to live with us, to bring light into the darkness. Consider what John wrote about Jesus, the baby at its heart: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1 v 4-5). The light of Christ is a life that is satisfying, full and fulfilled; glittering with peace, joy and hope; set firmly on the love of Christ for us. Not a life that is quietly disappointing, but “life to the full” (John 10 v 10).
Maybe hearing that just adds a sense of guilt to your disappointment. There should be light, but instead it just feels like relentless darkness; the life-greying, dank dimness of disappointment.
We know the theory—but we struggle to feel it in practice.
So what can we do when we feel the darkness of disappointment settling on our lives? Here are two suggestions.
1. Acknowledge the disappointment
The greatness of the darkness is no match for the light. If you light a candle in a great hall, it still lights your way. It still drives away the darkness. And Christ is no flickering tea-light—he is the light of the world! So set out the disappointments that you feel and let them be as dark as they can. You don’t need to be afraid to give voice to them. Talk about them with a close Christian friend.
Then set against them the light of the eternal, glorious God who came to live with us, to know us and to make himself known to us. The King of kings who become the least of all servants to die our death, take our sin and guilt, free us from slavery to the darkness. The great Son of God who leads us by the hand through his death and into the resurrection life of his Kingdom of light. We have Jesus, and he is light.
2. Remember that Christmas is not the feast—it’s the rehearsal
One day the light will burst over the darkness forever. When Christ returns, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 22 v 23). As you feast with Christ in the eternal city, you will see that this was the feast you were made for. The disappointments of Christmas pale in the smile of Jesus as he fills your glass and laughs with the joy of your presence. There is even joy now in wondering how he will remove or redeem the particular disappointments. We don’t know how he will right this wrong, or reconcile these brothers, but he will do so and it will be glorious to see.
This dark disappointment is not the end. The end is full of light, life, joy and satisfaction.
Christmas was only ever meant to be the beginning.
Dealing with Disappointment: How to know joy when life doesn't feel great by John Hindley is now available to pre-order (Release date: January 16th 2017).
This article originally appeared on TheGoodBook.com. Used with permission.
John Hindley is the pastor of BroadGrace church in Norfolk, UK and the author of the bestselling Serving without Sinking. He studied for ministry at Oak Hill College, and then co-founded The Plant church in Manchester before moving to Norfolk. John is married to Flick and they have three children.
Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: December 30, 2016