christmas chaos: dealing with unmet desires
All throughout the Old Testament, locusts are a symbol of destruction and devastation—of chaos. Each time they appear, they build tension ultimately designed to point us toward the realization that the evil in this world remains in need of defeat.
Defined as “complete disorder and confusion,” it seems appropriate that my church would position the word “chaos” behind “Christmas” in naming our current sermon series. It is a series on Advent—the four Sundays proceeding Christmas, which are observed in the Church as a time of waiting, expectation, and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
I LOVE Christmas (how original, right?). Yet, be it the consumerism, or the parties demanding planning and preparation decorating every weekend, something about this season tends to feel just a bit more frantic than the rest. And even beyond those surface level stresses, there’s another way to look at the chaos often characteristic of this season, and it’s found in the word’s antonym: control. Chaos is a lack of control.
Just as joy is magnified by Christmastime, so is pain. I love fun, festive photos as much as the next person but I imagine for some, as they flash across feeds, they do little more than to poke at those pains, speaking of secret clubs they stand on the outside of. You see, the most profound pains are often rooted in the things we desire deeply for ourselves, yet have no control over. And this time of year tends to highlight those as brightly as a string of twinkle lights highlights a tree.
For some, this is the first Christmas without a loved one, and the season speaks more strongly of past memories and the ache to return, than it does excitement for this year.
For some, the social media snapshots of others’ family traditions and trips to pick out a tree speak to the deep ache of belonging to a broken family, where Christmas has held more pain than it ever has pleasure.
For some, the celebration feels incomplete without their soldier overseas, whose safety is a constant worry in their minds.
For some, December 25th marks another lap around the calendar, and the grief of another Christmas absent of a baby’s smooth skin resting in their caring arms.
Others, as they craft glittery “First Christmas” ornaments for three of their very best friends who all got engaged or married during the year—as I did two years back—continue to wonder what year the sparkly numbers will spell out on their own.
I’m not at all saying we shouldn’t share our joyful moments. We should. What I’m saying is these scenarios are very real for many people—I personally know of at least one in each (and if you didn’t catch it, one was me)—and I want to acknowledge that.
For those who find themselves in one of these scenarios this year, I simply want to say as I’ve so many times needed to hear, that you are seen, you are known, and you are loved. The God of the universe stands in solidarity with you, bearing your pain, fully present within it.
He promises something profound:
Not only does God desire to draw a close to chaos—to evil, brokenness, and pain—He promises to restore to us the years of devastation wrought by that chaos.
Think about that for a moment. This is a promise—let that sink in.
Yet, Advent itself reminds us that there lies a gap between the issuing of the promise and its fulfillment. How then, are we to live into it?
For those suffering or hoping for something that feels like it’s never going to happen, there comes a time when disowning our desires presents itself as a kinder, better alternative to bearing disappointment yet again.
That’s where I was Sunday when I ran into a friend at church—the kind of friend who asks how you’re doing and sees right through anything but the honest truth. I told her I was having a hard time holding onto hope that God would bring the right man into my life, simply because up until this point, any prospects have turned out not to be, and though some may look at my age and not understand, it sure feels like its been a long wait. I think that the longer you feel the fullness of an unmet desire, the easier it becomes to harden to it, like a scab coming in to protect the tender flesh underneath.
But the idea that disowning our desires to avoid disappointment is a better option, that’s a lie.
As an incredible mentor of mine told me just this week, the attitude of Advent is one we’ll have to assume our entire lives. Meaning, we all have pains and things we yearn for, and we always will this side of Heaven—those things simply change as do our seasons of life.
The beauty comes when we’re brave enough to enter in and feel those longings fully, allowing them to press us into the heart of our one true Hope.
Joy and pain flow from the same faucet and when we close the lever on one, we close it on both. My mentor continued to say that when we harden ourselves to our aches, pains, and desires, we harden ourselves to God. Conversely, when we allow ourselves to feel them, they become the very thing that keeps us hungry for God. The only way we can maintain hunger for God is if we’re not already full and satisfied with other things.
I don’t know what it is you may be longing for today—maybe healing, or restoration, or fulfilled desires, or relief from your sorrow, pain, or grief. I do, however, know this: while I don’t have a sparkly “First Christmas” ornament to hang on my tree this year, I do have an unshakeable hope to hang on Jesus, and the same Hope is available to you.
May we keep hoping, keep dreaming, keep praying, and may we watch to see what God will do.
Let’s start a tradition together! I’m compiling a Christmas playlist on Spotify to be featured on my next blog post. Click on the photo below to share YOUR favorite Christmas song, and have it included.