By Brenda Black
The lights remain lit and the refrigerator overflows with leftovers. There are still baskets and trays of home baked goodies crowding the counter and calling me to continue the indulgence. Though my world seems stuffed, some parts of my heart feel empty.
I know it's coming each year when the pretty packages vacate the premises from under a sparkling tree. I feel it wash over me as I return each ornament to its original package and hide all of them in a sealed tote headed for the attic. That tangible vacuity that has for a month been filled with busyness now looms ominously spacious. The day-to-day routines of work and activities quickly consume the hours, but they do not occupy the places of my heart.
It never seems quite perfect enough – the gift given, the meal presented, the solo performance at the church program or the Christmas cards mass delivered. I worry over people forgotten, traditions broken. I hate saying goodbye to family and friends who won't be seen for months on end. On the heels of joy and festivity, the holidays melt into history. And the aftershock of Christmas throbs more like an ache than a startling shake.
At first, one may not recognize it and write it off to the fallout of sugar highs and late night gatherings. You may think you are just out of kilter as you try to shift from holiday mode to work schedules, lost on the calendar because your weekend began on Monday. But it's deeper than that, bigger than that. The vacuum exists in each of us that only the Lord Himself can fill. It won't be satisfied with presents and parties; nor food or favorite seasonal movies. Every time we try to pack our hearts with worldly pleasures intended for spiritual treasures, we'll be left wanting.
Certainly, time with family and friends and the exchange of gifts to express our affections are worthy endeavors. Nothing can replace Grandma's shared recipes or Uncle Bob reading the Christmas story. So much of our delightful traditions are permeated with valuable sentiment. But they will never be enough without God in the middle of them.
For when the lights fade, the savory smells dwindle, the gifts are gone, and family scattered, what will fill the void? The same One whom we just celebrated. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him 'Immanuel' – which means, 'God with us.'” (Matthew 1:23)
Even when everything else departs, God remains. He deposits a gift far greater than anything we could wrap in pretty paper. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
The Lord abides so that we can continue telling and living the Christmas story. “But you will receive power when the Holy spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses...to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Christmas actually never ends when you know Jesus -- the babe-turned-man who lived and loved, died and came to life again.
“David said about him: 'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'
“...Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear...” (Acts 2:25-33 selected)
There's no need for emptiness when God lives within and the Spirit of Christmas never leaves us. When post-holiday blues try to creep into your heart, remember there's no room because Christ continually resides there.