I wrapped my arms around my almost-three-year-old nephew’s small body. His puffy blue coat made it hard to hold on, so I constricted my arms tighter.
“Where we goin’, Liza?” Noah asked.
“We’re going on a sleigh ride. You know, like in Jingle Bells?” I started to sing softly. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh—“
“Hey!” he sang.
I laughed. “Exactly. We’re just like Jingle Bells.”
We sat on the sleigh, which was hardly a sleigh at all (instead, it was more of an open tractor bed), and looked out at the night surrounding us. It was our community tree lighting. There was hot chocolate, roasting marshmallows by an open fire, Santa visits, and live Christmas songs. But the most exciting part of the night was, by far and away, the sleigh ride.
Two large horses were hooked to the front of the sleigh. Bells tinkered whenever they shook their manes.
“Woah,” Noah murmured softly. “Those are awesome horses.”
The horses began to walk forward, and the sleigh took off with a slight jolt. Noah grabbed onto my legs, but after a few moments, he relaxed. Even in the dark, I could see the way his eyes lit up. Everything he saw — every Christmas light, every outline of a reindeer on someone’s back porch — he pointed to, letting out a delightful gasp.
“Are you having fun?” I asked.
“This is fun!” he said. “This is really, really, really fun!”
In three-year-old language, that was his way of explaining his pure, unadulterated exuberance. As I held him on my lap, I watched the way he pointed to each thing he saw. He sees more than I can. Or maybe he’s just better at noticing.
We got off the sleigh, and as we walked, I listened to the way people sang to Jingle Bells and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. You could almost feel the community’s Christmas spirit in a tangible way. And yet even while I felt deep gratitude for seeing the delight in my nephew’s eyes, I also felt a clash of sorrow amidst the palpable joy.
I could hear Judy Garland’s voice in my head, singing:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
But the truth is, my heart isn’t light. My troubles aren’t out of sight. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean everything is merry. I know you know this, too. I know your heart may be feeling just as heavy as mine. It often feels that in the gleam of the Christmas lights our hardships seem harder and our grief heavier.
And yet, God sees us exactly as we are.
In this season, when my heart feels weary and worn down with grief, when I become overwhelmed by how hard these mid-December days can be, I choose to remember who God is.
Emmanuel. God with us.
He is coming, but more than that, He is here. He dwells among us right now — this miracle of Christmas, of Christ coming to dwell with us, is not something to celebrate merely during Advent but every single day of the year.
He has not forgotten you. He is beside you even now — especially now.
Noah and I went on the sleigh ride again and again that night. My heart started to feel lighter the longer I stared at him and his almost-three-year-old wide-eyed wonder. My grief didn’t fade, but something shifted within me.
I could feel room for both joy and grief in my heart. Not one or the other, but room for both.
But more than that, I could feel the presence of Emmanuel, God with us.
God has not forgotten you. He is beside you even now — especially now. -@alizalatta: Click To Tweet