Have you seen the commercials with the theme “And is Better”? Would you rather go to a “bed OR breakfast” or a “bed AND breakfast”? Is it better to have “nuts AND bolts” or “nuts OR bolts”? Of course, their car has “This AND That” and so they say: AND is Better.
But is it always? In life, would you rather have “Joy AND Sorrow” or “Joy OR Sorrow”? “Grief AND Hope” or “Grief OR Hope”? In life, OR seems to be better: I’ll take Joy every time. When it comes to cars, we have a choice. When it comes to life, we don’t. Life is AND. Life contains sorrows and joys, peace and fear, hope and despair. If we don’t learn to live with both, we will find ourselves wishing for a life that is not possible and that will just leave us miserable. We cannot have an OR life here on earth but we can get help living life with all its ANDs.
My sister Laurie died in March and we are facing our first Christmas without her. This month has been a strange combination of joys and sadness. We have the joys of the holidays and traditions and decorations and celebrating God’s presence among us. But we can hardly bear to experience the joys because of the hole left by the absence of someone we love. But life is like that. Life and death. Joy and sorrow. Grief and hope. And all at the same time.
But Christmas for many of us has been one thing and one thing only for many years: joy, excitement, and happy memories. Oftentimes the joy of this Christmas has been the ability to remember the many happy Christmases that came before. And when that is taken from us, how do we handle it? How can we celebrate a holiday in which you are supposed to be happy (or so we think) all the time but in which you are now empty and filled with sorrow?
One thing that may help is to remember that all of life has its ups and downs. Childbirth is pain and joy. Marriage is arguing and making up. Parenting is thrills and chills. Career work is fulfilling and frustrating. And we have learned to live with the downs while still enjoying the ups. Of course it will get better as time goes on. The first Christmas will be tough. But you will learn to live with both joys and sorrows at Christmas just as you have in so many other areas of life.
Another thing that helps me is to remember that God is with us in joys and sorrows. Think for a moment about the very act at the center of Christmas. The Christ has come to earth, born as a baby. He came because we are lost, sad, grief-stricken, fearful, and despairing. He came to give us a hope that will not die and that cannot be defeated by all the downs of life. He came to teach us that sorrows are not a sign of God’s absence or rejection but that God is with us (Immanuel means “God with us”- Matthew chapter 1) and that he will be with us always (Matthew chapter 28).
Existence on earth in this great big universe is a battle of life and death. Which one do you believe will win? Which one is already winning in your heart? One friend of my sister, who was experiencing many difficulties of her own, said she was having a hard time believing in anything anymore. I can understand that struggle. Death would have won the battle in my heart years ago if not for the beauty, joy, and blessings of life which are just as real (actually more real to me) than the sorrows. They are eternal because they are connected to God.
Christmas reminds me of the power of God’s gift. Death is not the final power and the grave is not our final resting place. There is always hope because Jesus has come and his life and love have conquered death (2 Timothy 1:9-10). I pray that in some way you have this hope in your heart too. May this Christmas be as sweet as if it were your first Christmas, full of hope and joy. And if your holiday also comes with some emptiness or sadness, remember that life, and holidays, are all celebrated in the context of AND. You don’t have to rid your heart of every sadness to experience joy. And you don’t have to put aside all the joys because you are sad. God walks with you in both your joys and sorrows.
Life is AND. But take heart; OR is coming.