December 26th—and the days that follow—have always been some of the more depressing days of the year for me. Even as a kid, there was a sense, starting around midday on Christmas day, of things taking a turn from joy-filled to joy-depleted. The build up, the dream of the day, collides with the reality, and it always leaves the dreamer wanting.
As a child, this feeling came around the time the boxes had been emptied and the wrapping paper stashed in garbage bags. It came when whatever I hoped would be in the packages didn’t quite live up to what I found inside. Wrong size. Wrong brand. Wrong item all together.
As an adult, the sense remains, but exists for a different reason all together. Prior to December 25th, even as adults, the sense of wonder approaching Christmas is real and powerful and creates an entirely unique and beautiful lens through which to see the surrounding world. It is magical. It is advent. It is waiting. It is hoping. It is joining in the collective expectation of centuries of believers, and with ancient Israel, that God is coming. A king is approaching. A Word will be spoken—and we sigh in relief, in respite, feeling the heaviest of burden lifted in the imminent arrival of Jesus.
And then December 26th comes. And suddenly the stable seems less magical. The heavenly host has quieted down. The shepherds have returned to work. The reality of parenting a newborn sets in. The trip home on a donkey has to be made. And the wonder that once enveloped humanity seems to have worn a bit thin.
And it isn’t because the presents may have disappointed. And it isn’t because the dream of the perfect family harmony proves an unrealistic fantasy. It is because the spirit of advent isn’t quite resolved.
We waited for Jesus. And He came—long ago. Maybe too long ago. And something about December 26th—the Christmas decorations being taken down, the return of the white cup at Starbucks, the top 40 songs replacing the Christmas tunes on the radio, the gratitude of long separated family being reunited, turning to resentment, frustration and impatience— brings to light how stark the actuality, how deep the longing is for resolution and for His return.
Though Christ arrived already, the days after Christmas make it as clear as ever that things are not yet as we hope them to be. God has spoken. But not the final world. God has come. But He hasn’t taken up permanent residence. Christmas is never as far away as it is the first few days after. Which makes the lens through which we see the world changed. Now hope seems far away. Expectation seems unrealistic. Joy seems simplistic. And peace seems naïve. December 26th does the same thing brokenness, wounds, and death does any time of the year. It reminds us that God has not come the way we need Him to.
So, what to do now? How to believe when the resolution seems so remote and the silence of God feels as personal and painful as ever? What to do when Christmas came and left and the ache and hurt is never more real or present? How to move forward when everything goes back to how it always was? When the magic is gone? When the expectation falls flat? When the long awaited anticipation seeps out of our souls leaving us tired, spent, and disappointingly, frustratingly in exactly the same place we were in when we started? What do we do when Christmas comes and Christmas goes, and everything is still the same?
Starting once more, we begin to wait—again.
We pray for the final spoken Word. We cling to the “not yet” of our hope amid the “already” of our human condition. We await the closing chapter. We stay resolute in endurance for a future we know exists but whose calendar day stays elusive and maddeningly just beyond reach. We pray earnestly—while we hurt deeply. We anticipate faithfully—while mourning completely.
And all the while we determine to make our mouths form the words our souls never cease to plea. Come, Lord Jesus. We wait, Lord Jesus. We beg, Lord Jesus. We are desperate, Lord Jesus. And we know nothing better to ask than simply come back. We don’t know what to do in the interim. We don’t know how to push through. We don’t know how to wake up and do another day again. So our prayer remains—even when the emotion of Christmas is gone—our prayer remains. As His presence remains. But not in the way we know it will one day. We wait for that day.
…the news cycle returns to destruction, ill will and fear.
…the dream of what Christmas could be, feels naïve in light of the Christmas that was.
…the desperation for one more normal holiday—with the marriage still in tact, the hope still fresh, the disease still at bay—fades into the stark news we thought we might outrun.
We wait. Feeling foolish in our audacious optimism. Feeling silly in the winter’s gray. We wait. Prove our hope worthy, God. Prove our spirits tried and true.
Come Lord Jesus.