Each year, December 25th comes around whether we’re ready or not. We often talk about how there’s so much we still need to get done, how we’re short on time and money, etc. But what about when you aren’t ready for Christmas because you’re dealing with a loss, and your heart is simply not ready for celebration?

In 2021, we prepared to celebrate Christmas without Granddad. My best friend’s eight kids prepared to celebrate without their mom, and with a newly widowed father still reeling from the loss. Another friend had lost her father just a few weeks prior, and another two friends would celebrate this Christmas as singles, following their divorce. Another friend was struggling with being unemployed, with Christmas adding to the stress of barely being able to make ends meet as it was. And yet, the holidays were closing in at their usual pace, with no relief for the heartbroken.

My heart was so heavy—not just with my own loss, but with my loss in conjunction with the losses all around me. Each death had been sudden and unexpected, and I felt myself waiting for the next loss-related news.

This was the first year I worked through Advent, the four-week period leading up to Christmas that many dedicate to prayer, meditation, and Bible study. It was a struggle just to try to do this well. I didn’t observe much, and there certainly weren’t any daily gifts or anything. I just had the words: Hope, Preparation, Joy, Love. Each cast a ray of light into the darkness, shifting my focus to something more meaningful and worthy.

Aside from my loss and brokenness, the fact that Jesus came as the Savior of humanity is a thing to celebrate! Even if I couldn’t muster up all the joys and the traditions of the season, I could fix my heart. If I seemed a bit more melancholic than my usual Christmas self, it’s because I was chewing on those words—Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love.

Hope reminded me that my hope is not in the promise of this life being easy, but in Jesus’ promise to redeem me.

Although I didn’t have the strength for big Christmas preparations, I could prepare my heart to accept God’s sovereignty.

I have joy because Jesus came! And joy increases when it’s shared with others.

God showed His love by sending Jesus to earth to redeem us.

I sent a huge basket of treats to my best friend’s kids and texted and called the friends who had lost someone. And on Christmas Day I was ready to say “Joy to the World.”