As I write this the sun is setting and the sky is orange, pink, and purple. I wish there were a word to describe the feeling that washes over me at this time of the day. A friend of mine calls it “a happy sadness.” I suppose that’s as close as I can get to really describing it. It’s really the same feeling I get at this time of the year. The holiday season brings a happy sadness. Maybe you feel that way, too.
I have a long and sordid love affair with the holiday season. Some of my earliest memories are of the lights on the Christmas tree in our house on Milwaukee’s Tacoma Street. They were the big glass bulbs that you don’t anymore see on trees. There were no mini twinkling lights or LED “cool” lights. Our family always got a real tree and it sat right in front of our big picture window. The big lights on that tree fascinated me and helped me anticipate Christmas morning when the tree would be overflowing with gifts.
But my early memories also include those long holi-“days” home from school. There were times I suffered from a stomach ache so bad that I couldn’t eat for days at a time. I remember feeling an awful feeling both physically and emotionally that I just wanted to go away. I don’t know where the stomach ache came from, but it was relenting. Eventually I would feel better and Christmas morning was as wonderful as could be. The holidays were for me a happy sadness.
Thanksgiving is now over and we are head first into the 2017 holiday season. I go into the grocery store with all of the decorations and specialty foods and think, “This is my favorite time of the year.” I hear (most of) the Christmas songs on the radio or in the store and have a happy feeling.
But the holidays are also a reminder of times past. I think about all of the great times with my girl friend, who then became my fiancé, who then became my wife. I remember those days when our children were very little and seeing that happy anticipation on their faces. There was so much joy over the years finding just the right gifts for each of our kids. And it was always fun to see what they, in their creativity would get me.
Christmas will be different this year. Our son and his wife live out of state and won’t be able to make it to our house this year. Our daughter and her family rightly need time to celebrate Christmas on their own with their little boy, our grandson. This will really be the first time we haven’t had our whole family together at some point at Christmas. That’s the sad part.
But there’s a wonderfully happy part, too. It’s that little boy. Our less-than-one-year-old grandson has brought a special kind of joy to life that simply cannot be matched. His smile lights me up and his presence is the truest gift there is. If I received no other gift this year he would be more than enough.
It’s only a small reminder of the eternally joyful part of Christmas. It’s the part that also has to do with a Baby Boy. The One who was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger brings the present of His presence. Every day. Every year. Holiday season or not. No matter how I feel. His joy takes any sadness I may have and washes it eternally away. His perfect life takes any sin I have ever committed and nails it to His looming cross. It’s a happy sadness. But it’s always — yes always — undergirded by joy (which is a much different thing than mere “happiness” and ultimately drives away even the deepest sadness.)
This holiday season I wish for you more happiness than sadness.
More than that, I wish you the true joy that comes only from the Newborn King.