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Column: Is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year?

We all have warm and memorable moments from past Christmas seasons. I remember our Christmas, at age 20, when nine of us, eight adults and a 4-month-old baby, stayed in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, basement apartment for three days! I don't know how we did it, but we actually still like each other. We laugh and repeat stories from that Christmas but we are not repeating those living conditions!

In 2015, our son, Nathanael, was at Advanced Individual Training in Georgia for the U.S. Army, and he wasn't sure if he could come home for Christmas. My mom's health was poor, but for months she asked me if Nate was going to be home for Christmas. In her mind, the army meant her grandson was at risk. Deep within her, she wanted to be with her grandson at Christmas and know that he was ok. Two weeks before Christmas we found out he could come home, but I decided not to tell my mom. I will never forget walking into her room at the transitional care unit, as she was working hard to go home for Christmas herself. When she saw me she smiled, as she always did no matter what her life circumstances were, and said "hi." But when Nate walked in behind me? She had this startled look on her face, her mind processing who this unexpected guest was, and then her twinkling eyes opened as big as I have ever seen and the brightest smile lit up the room. I will cherish and picture this priceless memory for the rest of my life. That was our last Christmas together before her death.

Christmas can be a time of great fun and heart-warming memories. It can also be a complicated time, filled with loneliness, grief, insecurity and fear. Christmas can be so wonderful and so painful at the same time. Christmas is an exaggerator. The bad, the hurt, the loss, or my latest and greatest fear, becomes exaggerated at Christmas.

We so want a meaningful, relationally-healthy, conflict-free Christmas that anything that gets in the way of that seems overwhelming and hopeless. Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and at the same time it is often not the most wonderful time of the year because of what is happening. It can get exhausting living on this Christmas roller-coaster; the peaks are exhilarating and the lows are overwhelming.

Recently at Prairie Heights, I reminded our church that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year not because of what is happening but because of what happened. Often, the quality of our Christmas is based on who is or is not physically with us, but Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year because of who is for us. God loves you so much that he sent Jesus into the world to rescue and redeem you. Our past can be forgiven, our future full of promise, hope can be restored and we can live in freedom when we receive the gift of Christmas, the gift of Jesus Christ. Don't settle for any temporary substitutions!

Merry Christmas.