Eleven years ago we lost our oldest son, Christopher, in an automobile accident. He was 33 years old. The Christmas that followed was the saddest I had ever known.
Instead of being “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the Christmas jingle goes, it was miserable. Just thinking about Christopher’s absence felt like all the merriment and joy were sucked out of the season. When you have lost a loved one, the holidays can be an especially painful time because they are super-charged with memories of happier days that simply cannot be reclaimed. To this day, we still feel a huge hole in our hearts.
I imagine many families may be going through something similar this year, and they are dreading instead of looking forward to Christmas Day. But even in the middle of grief, Christmas can be a time of celebration and, yes, some moments of happiness — if we remember what it is really about.
But to do this, we need to start by canceling Christmas.
Now, I’m not talking about the celebration of the birth of Christ but rather the hijacked version that most people seem to participate in today. The word Christmas has been pirated, emptied of its meaning, dragged through the gutter and given back to us minus its power. To many Americans, Christmas means little more than ornaments, peppermint lattes and presents under a tree.
But this commercial Christmas cannot deliver on its empty promises. After all the presents have been unwrapped, the food has been eaten and everyone has gone home, we end up feeling empty and alone again. Maybe the festivities helped us forget about our pain for a little while, but once it’s all over, it comes back and hits us like a freight train.
The true meaning of Christmas is a promise of hope — not that we will find a present under a tree but rather that God’s presence will be in our lives.
In the Bible, we read how the angel came to Joseph, the soon-to-be-husband of Mary, and told him that her son, supernaturally conceived in her womb, would be called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Matt. 1:22)
Without question, one of the most remarkable teachings in the Bible is that Jesus Christ Himself will actually enter and live in any human heart that welcomes Him. That is why the old Christmas hymn says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”
Christmas means we never have to be alone again, because of Immanuel. Jesus is there with us.
What does Jesus’ presence in our lives look like? Listen to this amazing promise God makes in Isaiah 43:2:
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
Whatever you are facing this Christmas, remember this: God is with you. You are not alone.
Maybe your marriage fell apart this year and you feel all alone.
God is with you!
Perhaps your children have forgotten about you.
God is with you!
Maybe a loved one that was here last year is gone.
God is with you — and if they believed they are with God!
As I said before, that first Christmas without our son, Christopher, was the saddest I had ever known. But it also was one of the most powerful moments in my family’s life because the promise of Christmas — Immanuel — was so personal to us. We didn’t need presents, we desperately needed God’s presence in the middle of our pain.
Sunday, Dec. 22, is the fourth Sunday of Advent, the season of hopeful anticipation for the birth of Jesus. Since at least the fifth century, and perhaps earlier, people all over the world have celebrated Advent, because the birth of this child signified the coming of hope to a weary world. Jesus would die on a cross and rise from the grave so anyone who believed in Him may live.
So, if you find yourself depressed and down this Christmas, remember the real reason He came. He is with you right now, and He can live in your heart as well.
If you believe that, this will be the “merriest Christmas” ever for you.
Greg Laurie is an author, evangelist, pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and Harvest Crusades. He is a bestselling author of several books, his latest is “Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon.”
John Grano is Senior Managing Editor of The Christian Post and Richard Land is it’s Executive Editor.