Even in the mid-90’s, no one was still listening to records anymore, but, for me, there is still some Christmas music that must be heard against the crackling of needle on vinyl. Classical guitar, organ and chimes, brass quintets – all instrumental arrangements of ancient carols whose lyrics, inscribed in memory like grooves on the record, flood into place every year.
In the muted light of window candles, the only sound in the house was Christmas music, and even though I was cradling my own little olive-skinned, dark-haired replica of the baby Jesus, the carols seemed somehow sinister that year:
“The hopes and fears of all the years . . .”
“. . .through all the weary world.” “
. . . a cold winter’s night that was so deep.”
I was sinking in all that deep, and I knew this in my bones . . .
Depression in December feels out of place whether it’s post-partum depression (PPD) or an on-going struggle. All the earth was rejoicing—although not necessarily over the birth of Jesus—and the only words from the Christmas story that resonated with my despondent heart were “Fear not!” Those words—spoken by an angel—were supposed to quell the fears of shepherds who had probably never witnessed anything brighter than their evening cook fires. What were they supposed to feel on being exposed to heavenly glory?
The fear that blazed through my heart throughout that two-decades-distant yuletide season was the sneaking suspicion that I was doomed to be a failure in this mothering gig. I knew that I was not patient, nor kind, nor longsuffering by any standard. Like the shepherds, I was “greatly afraid.” Viewed through the haze of raging hormones, the blazing glory of all that I should be was terrifying.
Those words—“Don’t be afraid”—show up at least eighteen times in the New Testament, and eleven of those occurrences are directly from the mouth of Jesus. My favorite example happens in Capernaum. Jesus is walking down the street, and a man (Jairus) has been tracking him down. His daughter is ill. He has come to ask if Jesus will come to his house and heal his daughter. She’s dying.
Jesus starts to follow, but a side drama unfolds in which a woman, in dire need of healing, interrupts. In the meantime, someone from the crowd comes forward to give bad news to the man. His daughter has died. Don’t bother the teacher anymore.
I could completely identify with Jairus in that woozy, paralyzing cocktail of despair.
But the story continues as Jesus looked Jairus in the eye (as if they were the only two people on that crowded street) and said,
“Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”
“I know how this looks, but you have to trust me.”
“Don’t look at the circumstances. Look at me, and believe for hope.”
This is not a state of denial, but an invitation to make a choice. Jairus needed to look away from the screaming banshees on the street—the howling wasteland in his heart—and to acknowledge that they were real.
But then to trust Jesus anyway.
You know how Jairus’s story ends. Jesus gets to the man’s house and restores his daughter to life.
How did my story end? I slogged through the season, eventually the haze cleared, and the growing faith that rescued me that Christmas has persisted—in spite of being blown out of the water every few years.
The hard truth of living on a fallen planet, especially at Christmas time, is that there is often reason to fear:
All the little girls who are sick will not be healed.
All the little boys living in poverty will not be warmed or fed.
All the mothers with cancer will not go into remission and see their babes graduate from high school.
Real things happen that strike fear in my heart—and only a fool would not fear.
But that long-ago Christmas, the angel’s words in Luke 2 were an invitation to me to step over a line—to go from trusting myself to trusting God; to stop trying to calm my daily anxieties with my own fortitude or accomplishments or with random distractions. All of these things change way too fast to give me any lasting peace or security.
Now, every Christmas, I read and I listen carefully, because I still need to hear the angel’s words to those shepherds. Every year, I want to accept that invitation to look up from my own small, pitiful fire—and to behold the glory of God.
This post first appeared at Blessed But Stressed.
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