I can’t remember a Christmas season when I’ve felt more weary than 2020. After nine months of pandemic lockdowns and political divisiveness and escalating racial injustice, there are days when I simply want to pull the covers over my head and take a long nap. It’s been ugly, and I long to escape.
In less stressful years, we might focus on the shinier aspects of the Christmas story – a brilliant star glowing in a dark sky, luminous angels singing heavenly praises to ears that had literally never heard anything like it, and richly robed kings bowing down with priceless gifts before a tiny, perfect baby boy.
But the events leading up to Jesus’s birth are steeped in weariness. Mary’s physical exhaustion in the late stages of pregnancy as she completes a long, difficult trip with Joseph to Bethlehem for the census. The mental and emotional weariness of both after spending months pretending not to notice the disapproving looks and judgmental whispers of neighbors. Even the innkeeper (if he really existed) must have been completely worn out after yet another traveler knocked on his door late at night looking for a place to sleep. It’s a story that begins with a heavy feeling of exhaustion and hopelessness.
And in 2020, we can relate in a way we never could before. While we as parents are more familiar with the concept of complete weariness, it may be a new sensation for our kids. Their normal world is ever-changing and full of exciting possibilities, but the concerns of a global pandemic have brought much of what is normal to a screeching halt.
In this Christmas season, our kids may be looking at yet another sports season cancelled that they will never get back and another difficult, boring semester of virtual school. The are almost certainly missing friends and fun activities that they once took for granted. They are likely tired and growing more hopeless as days and weeks have turned into months with no real relief in sight. They, too, are part of this weary world.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is O Holy Night. I love the melody, quiet and simple in the beginning, building to a dramatic climax – a night divine when Jesus’s birth changes the course of human history forever. It’s one our teens may not be as familiar with because the language is old-fashioned and a bit stuffy. But the theology is sound, and in its words, we feel a connection with thousands of years of believers. It’s a connection and a promise that that we can share with our kids to help put our current situation in perspective.
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining ….
“In these unprecedented times” is a phrase that’s been repeated so often this year most of us don’t question its validity. Certainly, there have been changes in our daily lives, and many of them have been difficult and significant. But at their most basic level, these times are the same as they ever were. The truth is that disease, fear, hatred, oppression, and death have been “normal” since Adam and Eve chose to disregard God’s truth and believe Satan’s lie of self-sufficiency. In this past year, we have experienced these realities with an unexpected intensity that brings them into sharper focus.
Our kids may need the reminder that, while these times are certainly challenging, they are not outside the realm of God’s redemption. Sin always leaves us weary because it’s difficult for us to resist the temptation to try and break its chains by our own strength. The weariness we feel today has the same root as the weariness that Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine felt in the first century before Christ was born. Sin has made itself at home in the world, and we humans are powerless to confront it on our own.
His law is love and His gospel is peace…
But God has not left us defenseless. We do not have to live in darkness and defeat. John 1:4-5 tells us “in Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” God’s gracious gift of Jesus was the new and glorious morn which filled the weary world with joy – the gift of a savior who takes away the sin of the world.
This gift of Jesus is the answer to the weariness our kids may be experiencing. In his life and death, Jesus proclaimed both love and peace. As you celebrate his birth, encourage your kids to pray specifically for the world in which they find themselves right now: a world consumed by sickness and death, a world where fear and distrust create fractures that seem impossible to heal. Try to set aside a time to talk and pray about what Christmas means in the context of today. In what way is our world weary? What can we as Christians do to bring Jesus’s law of love and his gospel of peace to others?
A thrill of hope…
This Christmas will most likely be different from any your kids have ever experienced before. Cancelled festivities, virtual Christmas Eve services, and fewer family members around the table on Christmas Day will be the norm this year. After nine months of pandemic living, we are all tired. But we are not without hope. After the words of the prophet Malachi, the Jewish people waited four centuries for another word from God. It is easy to imagine their feelings of hopelessness. How many went to the temple out of habit, not really believing after all this time that the promised Messiah would come?
But in the middle of their jaded weariness, a peasant girl and a carpenter traveled to a small village in the Judean hills to complete a mandated, mundane task. They might have complained the whole way, annoyed that the government was requiring them to do it. They were tired and in pain, discouraged and afraid. There didn’t seem to be much to look forward to, much less celebrate. No one was expecting anything extraordinary to happen. But into that weary world, God chose an ordinary night to both keep and make a promise. The Messiah had come, and sin would be defeated forever through Him. What a glorious night—truly a night divine!