“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Like many of you, I’m sitting here on this first week of the New Year wondering where Christmas went. I always procrastinate a little when it comes to taking down my decorations, partly because it’s a ton of work, but mostly because I just really love those decorations and it’s sad to see them go. There’s something about that sparkling Christmas tree that makes my house feel a little more cozy and the world feel a little less dark.
When I was little, my parents went all out on Christmas morning. There were abundant presents under the tree, all carefully wrapped and intentionally chosen. There was a fire in the fireplace and pancakes on the stove. As if that weren’t enough, our stockings were filled to overflowing with even more abundance. Christmas morning was the epitome of excitement - the Superbowl of my childhood. I felt happiness with every present I opened, every familiar carol playing in the background, and every memory shared with my family. Yet, I can also remember another strange, unwelcome feeling that accompanied each Christmas morning: The Christmas Let Down. Once the last gift had been opened and I stuffed my hand in the bottom of my empty stocking to check for a stray gift, I always experienced a surprising feeling of disappointment when it was all over. Somehow after receiving everything I wanted and more, it still wasn’t enough.
Even as an adult, I experience the Let Down. Although I still love the Christmas season, the amount of work and preparation it requires is just daunting. Gifts to buy, a house to decorate, cards to send, cookies to bake, guests to host, and a budget to keep – all while making sure we emphasize the real meaning of Christmas to our children. Even though I’m intentional about trying to simplify our Christmas traditions, there’s just no way around extra work! And honestly, the work that goes into Christmas might even intensify the Christmas Let Down. Despite hours of meticulous planning and preparation, our Christmas still wasn’t perfect. Some of the gifts I gave weren't quite right. The meal I served on Christmas Eve didn’t turn out like I’d envisioned. The kids got into an argument over toys on Christmas morning. But even if I could somehow create a “perfect” Christmas (which of course isn’t possible), I’m sure I would still feel disappointed when it was all over. I used to attribute the Let Down to the fact that it’s always a little sad when something we anticipate for so long has come to an end. But actually, I think it’s much more than that.
The reason why I always feel let down after Christmas is because the very best that this world has to offer is never going to be enough to satisfy the deepest part of my heart.
Christmas lights. Exchanging gifts. Creating traditions. Seeing the delight in my children’s eyes on Christmas morning. These are all precious parts of Christmas, but these things alone are simply not enough to fill the deepest parts of my heart. Gifts will one day become donated or discarded. Lights will still be taken down every January. Our expectations won’t always be met. Children grow. Traditions change. Holidays – and even the people we share them with – were never meant to satisfy the place in our heart that was created for the One who came to earth, Emmanuel. God with us. The One who left Heaven to dwell among our brokenness. Because of Him, we have hope. We have freedom from the ache of unmet expectations. Why? Because Jesus came to earth to bridge the chasm that existed between us and God. It's because of Christmas - because Jesus came to earth to redeem us - that we have a relationship with the Creator of our souls.
And yet isn’t it just like us? Always placing our hope in the things of the world to meet our deepest needs. As we approach the New Year, we naturally set expectations for the year ahead – some consciously, but many subconsciously. We carry that subtle, and yet deep-seated belief that “If I just had _______, then I will be fulfilled.” What are those things for you? A spouse. A child. That dream house. A promotion. A different job. Finally losing that weight. Getting out of debt. Taking that vacation. Retiring.
Here’s the thing. None of these things are bad. They can be precious gifts from our Creator. But they're meant to point us to Him, not replace Him. The emptiness settles in when we place the gifts in front of the Gift-Giver and expect them to meet our needs. If we continue to look to the Creation instead of the Creator to fulfill us, we will spend our lives unfulfilled and disappointed. The band Switchfoot describes this phenomenon as a Beautiful Letdown:
It was a beautiful let down
The day I knew
That all the riches this world had to offer me
Would never do
I love that. It’s the realization that there is absolutely nothing on this earth that will truly meet the deepest needs of our heart. We have to learn to accept The Letdown. There’s just something inside us all that seems hardwired to look to the things of this world to fulfill us. But at the same time, The Let Down is still somehow beautiful when we realize that there is something - actually Someone. Jesus Christ. Emmanuel. He is the one who fills the deepest longings of our heart.
So maybe that familiar Christmas Letdown is beautiful after all. Let’s make our resolution to seek His face in the year ahead. Maybe we don’t have to ache when the lights come down because Emmanuel is the Light of the World, and He is with us. His light never goes out.