This time of year, people are wiped out. As much as we like to paint Christmas as a time of expectation and celebration, scratch the surface and just underneath we'll discover anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion. Even in the churches, or maybe especially in the churches, the picture we paint of joyous preparation and anticipation looks like washed out watercolors by Christmas Morning. God's steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness is preached, sung, confessed, and prayed about, so then why do we seem to find so little relief in the Church's message that "unto you a child is born," and so on? Why are we so anxious, frustrated, and exhausted? Why are we so wiped out? When Israel arrived at their breaking point, when they looked around and cried out, "Everything is lost", God reminded them: "I am your portion and your inheritance..." (Num 18:20) Whether they were rich or poor, owned houses and land or wandered the wilderness with no place to lay their head, whether they were a free people or slaves, they were grounded in the Lord's promise.
Our relief when we're troubled can't be found at the end of all our preparations and celebrations, no matter how pious our intent. Our comfort in discomfort can't find traction in others' platitudes like, "We understand what you're going through," or, "God knows your pain and he'll pull you through." Whatever worth we invest in such sayings they can't pull us through suffering and hopelessness. They fall far short of putting us in ultimate solidarity with our Savior.
This time of year, Christmas-time, doing more, saying more, getting others to participate with us in our preparations, won't hold us closer in our relation to God. There is no place for playing games with our hopes or our troubles with God. If there is any hope for us at Christmas time it must come entirely from God to us.
If we're wiped out it's because we've stopped short of God. If we paint Christmas as a time of expectation and celebration, but stop short of the God who lies in a manger, then we stop short of receiving from Him, letting Him be Giver-God in all that He does for us, and we end up alone in silence, waiting for God to do something (Ps 37:7).
But there is One who's come to carry our frustration, and exhaustion for us. There is One who's "seen our affliction", Who suffers what we suffer for us from conception to the grave. The One upon Whom God laid all our iniquities, especially the religiousity that causes us so much grief and hurt, that wipes us out because we imagine, "If I don't watch and prepare properly, then He won't come. He won't bring me my well-deserved reward. He won't give me rest."
Jesus, who is "stricken, smitten, and afflicted" for us, holds us to God through it all. His steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness comes to us and is given as gift in Him "without any worthiness or merit in us," or preparation. In Jesus, and with Jesus, and through Jesus we hope, and we trust, and we love because we're relieved of our burdens and cares, which God has chosen to remove from us and instead lay in a manger on the shoulders of the Christ-child, Jesus.
And so, as Martin Luther preached in a 1527 Christmas sermon, we "stay with that boy as He sucks, is washed, and dies ... [Because] there is no joy but in this boy. Take Him away and you face the Majesty which terrifies... I know of no God but this one in the manger."