I drove past the country store on the way home from church one day in early November. Normally it’s just part of the gray and green scenery that whirls by while I’m thinking about what needs to happen before small group, but this time it caught my eye. Outside in the drive they had their first Christmassy winter display—evergreen garland and ribbon and burlap on an old wagon. It was lovely in itself, but to my surprise, a twinge of anxiety crept up in my heart.

I’ve always loved Christmas, and I’ve only loved it even more as I’ve become an adult. When it comes to most things, I am the opposite of sentimental. But at the risk of going all mushy, Christmas is a time that makes my heart sing, a time where all is calm and bright. The beautiful story that God has woven throughout history in the Passover, the longing for a king, the foretelling of the Messiah by the prophets, and the scandalous birth of the Savior is nothing short of amazing and stirring. Isaiah 9 just might be my favorite passage in all of Scripture:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

This passage inspires real hope and purpose. There’s no room for despair or curmudgeonliness here. But as I drove by the first festive displays of Christmas, I realized that, maybe for the first time, I wasn’t there.

A few months ago we had our seventh child, and I entered into the busiest season of my life to date. I keep finding myself wishing I could download an incredibly efficient new operating system called something like Highly Efficient Logistics Programming into my life. Call it HELP for short.

And now, suddenly, it’s Christmas, and I am not ready! All is NOT calm.

But wait, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and Scrooges annoy me. I love the trappings of Christmas. While I long for a simple, low stress holiday season, I’ve somehow found a way to not mind so much even the most tedious and utterly annoying parts—like my own private annual Christmas Eve tradition of working on (if not always finishing) projects and wrapping presents well into the wee hours of the morning.

But suddenly everything about Christmas seemed like a burden. Pulling out all the decorations. Buying gifts and bringing lots more back home. Family gatherings here and there. And I’d like so much to take goodies to neighbors and do something to help others, but there’s no time. There’s so much to do! All of it was overwhelming me before it even started.

So there I was. Christmas was coming whether I wanted it to or not. So I got busy putting a brave face on and going to work being as Chrismassy as I could.

One night I was sewing new stockings for the kids, made out of old sweaters. It’s a project I’ve been meaning to do for years. I’ve never been happy with regular old stockings. It took me almost eight years of marriage to figure out what I wanted and another two to actually get to it. I was getting close to finishing the first one when my mom called.

My grandfather had died.

It was my husband who took the call. She told him first and then he handed me the phone and she told me. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. He was 90 years old and his health had been failing for some time. Still, it was heavy and I cried, praying for myself and my family as I went back to my work.

This is the second grandfather that my husband and I have lost during the holidays in just the past couple years. For many under these circumstances nothing could be worse. But for us, it was a weird sort of blessing.

Don’t get me wrong. Even as I write this, I am feeling the pain of losing my own grandfather. I am not glad for his passing, even though I am confident of his salvation and happy that he no longer suffers. And naturally, I’m still sad for the rest of us, especially my dear grandmother. For me it has been truly bittersweet.

I’m grateful for the sting of death at Christmastime and the perspective it brought to the stresses of the season.

Not every one has lost a grandfather, but death, broken families, little money, disobedient children, busyness, a tumultuous political landscape—these things bring lots of stress and uncertainty into our lives, especially around the holidays. For many people Christmas has become one of the darkest times of the year. How is Jesus the Prince of Peace in a day like this?

With the arrival of the Savior of the world, the angels proclaimed peace among men. That peace isn’t the promise that the circumstances of our lives will be clean, neat, and tidy. Or that our holiday celebrations won’t be interrupted by sin and suffering and even death.

But these difficult things remind us that our hope and peace is not in this world. The promise of enduring peace is found in Jesus Himself and in the world to come. It’s a peace that is for our souls, one that rises above the things around us, things mundane (like gifts and goodies) and things heavy to bear (like the death of a loved one). It’s a peace that works from the inside out.

When all around feels more chaotic and bleak than calm and bright, trusting in Jesus is our peace. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, so let your heart be light.

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