“Honey, I’m not feeling well,” I said as my stomach began churning after Christmas Eve dinner at my sister’s house.
Three hours later, I was slumped over a toilet, feeling the full effect of a merciless virus.
My wife, Raquel, peeked in the door and grimaced.
“I hope you don’t get this from me,” I said.
It was too late. In the middle of the night, Raquel sprang out of bed, clambered to the bathroom and went through the same thing.
Throughout the night, the virus was the gift that kept giving until finally, we both passed out in the early hours of Christmas morning. Around noon, we woke up in a daze and realized we had missed opening presents with the family. I was disappointed.
We had gone to so much trouble and expenses to fly down from D.C. to be with my family in Mississippi. Yet, on my favorite morning of the year, we were sprawled out in bed, fighting off nausea, quarantined from the rest of the family.
“Merry Christmas,” I mumbled, with the side of my head glued to the pillow.
Raquel just stared at the ceiling in silence.
The entire day, we laid there in bed, breathing slowly and occasionally sitting up to take a drink of water, grateful we could hold it down.
“You know,” I said, “a couple of Christmases ago, I could only dream of waking up next to the wife I had asked God for so many times. At least I’ve got that, right?”
I was absolutely right. Raquel had promised to be with me “in sickness and in health,” and that Christmas, she was fully delivering on her promise. She was as sympathetic as she could possibly be, fully identifying with my suffering – a woman who was as sick as I was and not going anywhere.
That Christmas with Raquel reminds me of the first Christmas in Bethlehem. Our world was sick – it couldn’t have gotten any sicker – and yet Jesus came into the sickness with us. He embodied His name, “Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23). He knew what we needed more than anything: We needed Him to be with us, to take on our sin and sickness and cure us forever. But it all started with Him simply being there, and He still is.
God is with you this Christmas, no matter how awful it may be. Emmanuel is there.
When there’s not enough money to give the kids decent gifts and your credit card is maxed out, He’s feeling your embarrassment.
When you have to make that heartbreaking visit to your beloved family member in the nursing facility, He’s holding that person’s hand with you.
When your spouse is growing more and more distant, He’s feeling the sting of rejection with you.
When you’re spending another Christmas without conceiving a child, He’s there in the feelings of emptiness.
When you’re feeling guilty because you’re depressed and don’t care that it’s Christmas, He’s giving you the courage to make a phone call to a friend and tell them you’re in a bad place.
This may very well be your worst Christmas ever and there’s nothing anyone can say or do to paper over that. The point is that Jesus knows. Angels may have announced His birth, but they didn’t rescue Him and his parents, who were far from home and trying to figure out what to do next.
No matter how bad things are this Christmas, never forget the promise you’ve been given: Jesus is Emmanuel, God with you. The simple fact that He’s there, fully identifying with your struggles, is the gift that makes Christmas worth celebrating.