The Christmas that we often see portrayed on TV, in the movies, on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, is one filled with joy and peace and the greatness of being with the people that we love. 

But this is not the reality that we often find ourselves in. Instead, we find ourselves surrounded by people that we love but who also drive us up a wall and get on our nerves and who, if we’re honest, we can’t stand. We also find ourselves managing expectations that are too enormous – to get the perfect gift, to send out the right number of Christmas cards, to have the right number of dinners, etc. etc.

And in the midst of this, we feel one thing: absence. We feel lonely and are acutely aware of the hurt that this season can often bring with it. Christmas is about the presence of God and, yet, we are there in the midst of God’s absence, of everyone else’s absence as well. We are alone.

And this is heart-wrenching. It tears at us, at our very souls, at the deepest parts of us. We feel the absence of God in a time that we are to celebrate and be more aware of God’s presence. We are aware of the absence of love, of relationship when we do not have anyone to go to. Absence fills this season. 

And, yet, it is in absence that presence resides. If we look at the story of Mary and Joseph, God is present at the beginning of the story as God sends them on their way. But as the story progresses, God is not there. God does not accompany them on the trip to Bethlehem. God is not there for the torture that is knowing your fiancee is pregnant and not by you. God is not there for Mary in the birth pangs of labor. We don’t find God…not until the birth of Jesus and, now, God’s presence has come into the absence. But absence dominates the story. It is the story: the story of God becoming one of us (Immanuel) is determined by God not being there.

So, all of this to say that you are not alone. Many people feel the absence that you do at this time of year. It might not make it any easier, but there are people that can help. And, take joy in the fact of simply being with people. Even if they do not make you happy and can hurt you, take joy in knowing that they are not absent and that they want to be there, with you. Even when it is not ideal, embrace the good. 

And, know that absence is part of the story. It permeates the entirety of the Christmas story. In fact, the story would not be possible without the absence. It does not help. It does not make things easier. But, absence is part of what makes presence so amazing.