Can you remember Christmas Eve? It was only a few weeks ago. But for most of us life Christmas zooms into our lives and then silently disappears in the rear-view mirror as we rocket on. And we hardly think about it.
But I’m still thinking about Christmas Eve because I know how difficult and despairing a night it can be. It is a grim reality for a lot of us that this night, and the season around it, sharply contrasts beauty and distortion, delight and despair, hope and emptiness.
As someone who led a congregation for two decades, I experienced Christmas Eve as the most poignant and sentimental night of the church year. A sweet night, rich with meaning and feeling.
Yet I know that for many of my colleagues, this last Christmas Eve was also a night of inner turmoil, of soulful mourning. For all the love and joy they sought to convey to others as they engaged in sincere and thoughtful ministry, for them it was a night of dispiriting hopelessness.
Because a lot of ministry leaders are struggling with hidden compulsive sexual behaviors and they’re stuck. I know, because for a long time, I was stuck, too.
How are they stuck? They’ve stumbled into patterns they can’t break without real help from others. And they can’t tell others what their struggles are without risking judgment, scorn and unemployment. They feel genuine remorse and guilt. They’re awash with shame. They want to live a different life. But they are just so badly stuck.
For them it’s been this way all year. But now Advent comes on and then Christmas. In the northern hemisphere darker days, too. Chill and excitement. Anticipation and celebration.
And dread. Such dread. Because of the disparity.
Most of my colleagues who struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors are really good people. They’re sincere about their calling and their service. They want to help others and honor the one who’s called them.
And they feel so badly about some of their choices, thinking they ought to be able to harness that bad feeling for life-change, but finding the exact opposite is true. The more they hate how they live, the more stuck they are.
So on Christmas Eve they lead the carols and tell the story and light the candles and love the ones God came for. And inwardly they writhe with self-loathing or shut off feeling. Because who can long tolerate this inner turmoil?
But that very turmoil is ultimately what this night is actually about, isn’t it? One who loves us so much—not because we’ve got it together, not because we perform well—but because of his heart of love, comes to be with us in our brokenness, in our mess. And not just to be with us in it but to help us through it.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John tells us (1:14) and he was full of grace and truth. And there it is. The hope. The promise. The reason for keeping on.
But something has to change. He brings truth, yes, and grace, but he does it “among us” meaning we receive these gifts together. Dropping judgment, ditching shame, helping each other open the gifts. We have to change how we do life together.
Think again about Christmas, and the radical love that brings it about. If we’re so loved, how should we love each other?
I wrote Ashamed No More (InterVarsity Press, 2012) to help all of us learn how to deal with sexual brokenness in our culture. Read it, give it to others, and contact me to come share with your group.