This is our second year stumbling through Christmas without our son. His ornaments and empty stocking hang in our home and convey our aching: we remember Eli proudly and we miss him terribly.

The weight of grief is compounded by the reality that there’s not much space for sorrow during this season. In our culture, happiness seems to be the norm we should aim for in December. “Merry” has become permanently fixed to Christmas, moving beyond a greeting to an expectation. The “sounding joy” that’s repeated in carols and circulated through cards seems to be the only appropriate tone of the holidays.

But this is not what we see in the Christmas of the Bible. Not all of Bethlehem was “joyful and triumphant” in the wake of Jesus’ birth.

For many, the first Christmas was immeasurably painful. Christ’s arrival incited an evil king to take the lives of innocent children as he tried to kill the Messiah. Matthew tells us that the resulting chorus was one of “weeping and loud lamentation” (Matt. 2:16-18). One of the first carols was sung by grieving parents as they mourned the tragic loss of their sons.

The worship of the wise men is readily acknowledged.
The wonder of the shepherds is regularly remembered.
But the weeping of these parents is regrettably overlooked.

While there may not be space for sorrow in our nativities, the Scriptures give room for heartache during the holidays. Grief is not in opposition to the Christmas spirit. It’s not something to feel guilty about or put aside until January. The first Christmas was one of peace and pain, cheer and chaos, merriment and misery. Both celebration and lamentation are biblically appropriate songs for this season.

It’s in this tension that we find the transcending hope of Christ, who entered into the brokenness “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).