For many of us, our childhood Christmases were filled with a certain type of magic. For me, it smelled like cinnamon and coming snow and tasted like frosted sugar cookies and my grandma’s walnut fudge. It was found in the hazy glow of yellow-white lights and in the warmth of that giant 80s floodlight on the living room floor as my dad prepped to record the annual Christmas video. I can almost feel the sound of my heart racing and hear my tiny pencil scratching furiously in hopes that this time, my eight-year-old vocabulary would be enough to best my mom and aunt in a game of Scattergories. And of course, there were the presents.

At its best, Christmas is shimmery, transcendent, and filled with wonder. It smoothes over the rough, imperfect edges of our lives and transports us to another place. Christmas calls us toward the best versions of ourselves and into a flourishing world where love, peace, and joy abound.

But sometime around my college years, my Christmas magic went missing. If I’m really honest, it had been slowly, almost imperceptibly, draining out for years. The older I became, twinkling lights, holiday foods, and festivities just didn’t seem to do the trick for my broken heart, my anxieties about the future, and my growing knowledge of the brokenness in the world.

And yet, I looked so forward to coming home for Christmas, with the secret mission of reclaiming that Christmas feeling. Year after year, I would enter the season with hopeful expectation, but was left with a sense of sadness and disappointment. It didn’t make sense. With the exception of wearing matching red and green plaid outfits with my twin brother and taking home a big haul of toys, nearly everything about our Christmas traditions had remained the same. It was me who was changing, but I didn’t yet have the words to name it.

A few years later, I became a mom. “Maybe the magic will come back if I create it myself,” I thought. So, I set out to start my own holiday traditions with our little family, and waited for the magic to come. And while watching my kids experience such joy at Christmas is so meaningful and fun, I still found myself sitting on my living room floor, surrounded by piles of crumpled up wrapping paper thinking, “That was it?”

For me, things changed when I stopped trying so hard to recover the magic I was missing and started becoming curious about what was happening in my heart. What I came to discover is that Christmas is filled with a lot of mixed emotions and unmet longings. I am overjoyed by the delight of my kids as they open their gifts while at the same time feeling plagued with the fear that they will become materialistic and entitled. I love creating a cozy Christmas atmosphere in my home, but feel the simultaneous pull to be overly focused upon outward appearances, missing out on the opportunity to simply be with those I love.

More than anything, Christmas seems to awaken this desire in me that never feels satisfied. Christmas makes me long for home — a place of rest, peace, connection, and wholeness that lasts. And while the Christmas season offers this in bits and pieces, it’s always slipping through my fingers. Before I know it, it’s over. Time presses forward, rolling ahead into the next season and my homesickness gets packed away with the ornaments and lights.

This season points us to the truth that we were created for something more than even the most potent Christmas magic could provide. Instead of sinking into disappointment and vowing that we’ll just try harder next year, I wonder if God wants to speak to us in that tension we feel when the magic fades. We can sink deep and savor the joy of Christmas as a beautiful foretaste of our forever home while embracing the discontentment and disillusionment that we’re not there yet.

This Christmas season, let’s press into that ache in our hearts that’s never quite satisfied as we wait for the day when the world will truly be at peace, all that divides us will melt away, and every bit of emptiness will be swallowed up by a joyful wholeness that never ends.

Melissa Brownback
Melissa Brownback

Melissa is a pastor's wife, mom, and professional counselor who loves listening to and telling stories that reveal the grace and redemptive work of God in the darkest and most unexpected places. She loves being outdoors and exploring her new community in Southern California where she lives with her husband and two little boys.

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