It was a terrible decision from the get-go.  I should never have left the house.  I should have done this weeks ago.  But I didn’t and now I had to face the consequences.  I had to go.

I pulled out of my safe little driveway and left my safe little neighborhood to enter the great and dangerous throng of Christmas shoppers, who also should have done their gift purchasing when the masses were at a normal level.  Because let me tell you, the masses were too much Saturday night.  Too much.  In fact, I came dangerously close to having a full-blown panic attack right there in the Target parking lot.  Car horns were sounding, children were screaming, people were everywhere and I just could not handle it all.

I was reminded of a Christmas two years ago when I decided to go Christmas shopping with my parents.  I had just finished my first semester of college and knew of no better way to spend my new freedom from academia than trotting behind Big John and Charm through every department store in Florence.  Still don’t, truthfully.  We laughed and chatted and had a right splendid time.  Everything was sparkly and covered in evergreens.  Beautiful.

But I’ll never forget the conversation I overheard as we entered one of the stores.  A man and a woman were leaving, passing us with scowls on their faces.  She was muttering something about what they had left to buy and where they should go next.  He trailed a step behind her, rolling his eyes.

“I just really wish Christmas was over already.”

If you had been there with me and listened really carefully, you would’ve heard a small crack split the walls of my heart.  It hurt to hear this man wish away the greatest time of year.  And it hurt more to realize why he wanted it in the past.

But truthfully, I understand.  I get it.  Christmas is hard.  It can be painful in more ways than one.

Money’s tight.

Gifts are a nightmare.

The crowds are infuriating.

Family is stressful.

Or sometimes, family is missing from the table.

As much as I wish it would, life doesn’t stop at Christmas.  It doesn’t pause or give you a chance to catch your breath.  Suffering doesn’t take a holiday.  Life is still hard and ugly even when the outside is covered in lights.

I get that.

But the thing is, we aren’t celebrating the lights because they will go out.  We aren’t celebrating the gifts because they cannot last forever, no matter what the warranty says.  We don’t celebrate the songs or the traditions because soon, they will be over.

Here’s what we celebrate.

We celebrate the fact that 2,000 years ago, God stepped into the world as a precious, little baby.  We celebrate Jesus coming to where we were—lost, sinful, dead—and giving the world life.  We celebrate the glorious truth that God is not dead, nor does He sleep.  He is alive.  And He came to save us.

We celebrate that humanity’s redemption story started in a manger.  And we celebrate that it didn’t stop there.  We celebrate Jesus.

This is the cause for rejoicing.  This is the cause for all of it.  The lights, the songs, the gifts, the family.  All of it.

Because here’s the thing.  When Christmas ends, the lights will come down from the trees.  The radio stations will put away their Christmas mixes.  The gifts will get stuffed into closets, forgotten, or returned.  The stuff will all go away.  And we’re still left with the life we had before.  Some hands will still be full to the brim with problems.  Some hearts still overflowing with heartache and sorrow.  The things that were vaguely hidden by the tinsel and holiday punch resurface with a vengeance, brazen and completely exposed.  No more holiday cheer to mask them.

Yet Jesus is still there.  He is still the reason we sing.  We celebrate His life on December 25th just as celebrate it on January 25th.  He doesn’t change.  His gift of salvation doesn’t go away.  He will still be the same Savior.  The same Prince of Peace.  The same Emmanuel; God with us.  He will still be the God who came for us.  Who required nothing from us.  The God who took on flesh and came to give us life.

Don’t miss this.  Don’t be consumed by consumerism.  Remember the reason we celebrate.  And if you have never had Jesus be the center of your celebration, change that this year.  He came for you.  He came to save you.