Emmanuel: God with Us

A white snowflake ornament hanging on a Christmas tree.

A few weeks ago, I was with my family waiting to be seated at a restaurant. The group in front of us was having trouble with their reservation. The hostess kindly explained that the group had made the reservation at the restaurant’s other location, but she would be happy to accommodate them if they were willing to wait fifteen minutes.

The group began to chatter among themselves as to what they were going to do, when one man erupted. He was furious that they would have to wait. The hostess, again, politely explained that because they had made the reservation at a different location, her location was not prepared for the size of their group. She promised she would do her best to accommodate them and would seat them as soon as possible. The man demanded to speak to a manager, but even the manager could not console him. He stormed out of the restaurant shouting in fury and told his group they would be eating at a different restaurant.

The group looked just as puzzled over his behavior as everyone else in the waiting area. After all, it was the group’s mistake for booking reservations at the wrong location and not the fault of the restaurant.

After the commotion settled, the hostess informed my family that our table was ready and she apologized for our wait. I told her she did not need to apologize. I told her I was sorry that man had treated her so poorly when she was doing her very best to help him. Her response was, “It’s the holidays. It’s to be expected.”

My heart sank for her and every other service industry worker. It’s sad that Christmas has become a time when bad behavior is expected, when those trying to serve our needs get served disrespect in return.

And please don’t tell me “they are getting paid to do a job.” Most are doing their job to the very best of their ability and most are going above and beyond what their pay grade even requires. I’ve worked in the service industry and I can assure you no amount of money made me feel better about getting cursed at or stormed out on or belittled by a customer. That phrase is an excuse for you to continue to be disrespectful, to not have to work through your own issues, to deflect responsibility for your actions.

I think we need to assess what is causing our holiday frustrations. We need to stop and reflect inwardly, so we can appropriately respond outwardly.

Why do we lose all semblance of patience and kindness during “the most wonderful time of the year”?

For many, it is the pressure. There is so much to do, so much to buy, so many people to see, so many gatherings to attend and, yet, so little time. We must realize, however, that the expectations we have for ourselves are often loftier than the expectations actually being imposed on us. Christmas is not a contest to make sure you get everything right – down to the last bow on the last present. Those bows get thrown away on Christmas morning anyway. Most of the time the only one judging you so harshly is you.

Again, I’d like to remind you that you are enough no matter what you accomplish this Christmas.

Now, I do understand that some of us have ultra critical people in our lives. If that is your situation, then I implore you to seriously think about the amount of time and energy you spend on those people this season. You don’t have to allow someone to treat you with disrespect or drain you of joy just because it’s Christmas. You have every right to decline an invitation to spend time with someone who treats you poorly, especially if it puts you in an emotional state where you, in turn, disrespect others.

In addition to pressure, I think many of us deal with strong emotions during the holidays. Sometimes we are reminded of events from holidays past. Sometimes we are reminded of loved ones that are no longer with us. Sometimes the joy and good cheer around us exacerbate our deep seated depression. Sometimes the holidays leave us longing for more and sometimes the holidays leave us pining for less.

And we don’t always know how to handle it all, so we turn into Mr. Scrooge. We lash out at innocent bystanders, cashiers, even our own children.

During the busyness of Christmas, we don’t take time to process our emotions, to let them do their work. We push them down deep thinking we can ignore them until the holidays are over. We try to lock them away thinking they can be contained, but emotions don’t work like that. They must be experienced and felt as they come, not deferred for later.

Emotions are just emotions. We need them like we need food and, like food, the worst they can do is give us a tummy ache. So, we need to stop avoiding them. I really believe we would experience Christmas more deeply if we experienced emotions more deeply.

When you feel with your whole heart, you see with your whole heart.

Sit with your grief. Acknowledge your anxiety. Face anger. Allow joy. Accept calm. If your emotions are too much to experience alone, then reach out. Ask a trusted friend or family member to help you sit with, acknowledge, face, allow, and accept your emotions this season.

A white snowflake ornament hanging on a Christmas tree. Text reads, "Emmanuel God With Us."

If reaching out is not an option, there is still hope.

My favorite Christmas song is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” because it says the one thing most of us are desperately longing to hear.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Maybe you feel like Israel in this song. You feel like a captive – alone, mourning, waiting for rescue. But the beauty of Christmas is we are not alone. We are not captives. Our waiting is over.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel means “God with us.” Christmas is God whispering in our ears I have come for you. For some of us, as we endure the pressure and emotions of not just Christmas, but life, we need to hear that rescue is here.

If reaching out is not an option, God has already reached out to you. God has offered you infinite love and through that love you can have infinite hope.

When you have infinite love and infinite hope, the line at the post office doesn’t throw off your whole day. When you have infinite love and infinite hope, you don’t need to go into debt buying Christmas presents. When you have infinite love and infinite hope, you can be gracious to the hostess at the restaurant. When you have infinite love and infinite hope, you can courageously experience your emotions.

Because when you have infinite love and infinite hope, you have infinite love and infinite hope to give.

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