Some of my first memories of emptiness are from the Christmases of my childhood. It was after the last gifts had been opened and the beautiful wrapping lay crumpled and discarded all across the floor that the hollowness would creep across my heart like a very dark shadow.
The weeks of festive anticipation came to a screeching halt. The hopes that had been soaring inside me crashed into the ground, a pile of smoldering debris. Whatever it was that my little heart craved so badly and that I had imagined might be wrapped up under the tree was painfully missing. I didn’t know yet that the longing of my whole life couldn’t be bought at the store.
And so I did all I knew to do–I plunged myself into using whatever gifts I had received, trying to forget the gnawing emptiness of it all.
As time went on, Christmas became a dismal time of year. Since I found no joy in Christmas, I resented the busyness of the season–the parties, the gift deadlines, the never-ceasing christmas play rehearsals. It was all a burden that I did not want to carry. And to make matters worse, my annual heart checkup in December brought me uncomfortably close to my mortality, a fact that I wasn’t on good terms with at the time.
Thankfully, there was one Christmas present that wasn’t empty on the inside, even if I had imagined it was.
The best joy I have ever known came to us through Christmas, and I discovered it one December evening, riding in the car, looking out at the Christmas lights, meditating–for quite possibly the first time–on the Incarnation–the wonder that Jesus Christ, God from eternal ages past, should come into the world as a little human baby to dwell among us and to save us from our sins.
My view of Christmas was transformed. Instead of a disappointment, Christmas is now a treasure of real substance: the greatest hope, celebrated in the dying of the year. Jesus came so that I could have life and have that life more abundantly. He is joy. He is peace. He is life. The gift that I always longed for.
I thoroughly enjoy the Christmas season now–the lights, music, gifts, events, time with family and friends. Those are the little wonders of Christmas. But I know from experience that they are mere emptiness without the big wonder of Christmas–Jesus Christ, the very heart of Christmas.