“Merry Christmas – your last one unmarried!” My friend smiled and said goodbye. I stood there a moment, surprised by what he said, letting it sink in. My last Christmas unmarried! In forty days, I will be the wife of Josh.

Twenty-three Christmases have passed by: twenty-three snow drenched, sparkling, loud, sleeping-around-the-tree Christmases. Twenty three Christmas seasons interrupted five times with an extra stocking on the mantle as another sibling was born. And now there are two stockings on the mantle – just two – for a new family. Ours.

In the middle of our Christmas shopping this year Josh and I stopped by the jeweler’s to discuss our wedding bands. When we got back to his house, Josh got out the book we are reading together – Sacred Marriage – and read aloud to me while I ironed. As he read, I thought about those rings: circling around our hands for the rest of our lives in sacred covenant before God. So sacred, so holy – just like this season.

Jesus’ birth is celebrated with songs about the ‘baby boy’ and ‘son of God’, both of which he was and is; but the gift of Jesus is not complete without suffering. The Christmas story is indeed ‘joy to the world’, but it is also a story of great sorrow and sacrifice: Mary, whose character was maligned; Joseph, who married an adulterous woman in the eyes of his friends and family; the shepherds, poor and freezing in the winter cold; the wise men, chased and wanted by a wicked king; and Jesus himself, born to die.

The sacred story is easy to repeat when we focus on the glory of it, but we often forget this glory was hard won by the characters in our nativity sets. Their whole lives were a testimony to the Christmas story; they lived the sorrow for us to know the joy. Did the women of Bethlehem understand the senseless loss of their sons, not yet two years old? Was it joy to the world for them? It was not – it was sorrow, a sadness that Mary escaped, but only for 31 years. She too lost her son, as did the Father God.

While I truly believe Christmas is a time for great joy as we reflect on the hope that Christ brought us upon His entry into our world, I also believe we will never fully understand the joy until we know the sacrifice. Christmas was and is a season of sacrifice: the sacred kind. As Josh and I have read through Sacred Marriage we have come to a greater understanding of what the purpose of marriage is: to take two selfish, sinful people and sanctify them into a glorious reflection of God. Marriage is not intended to make us happy, though that may be a side effect at times. If it were intended for my or Josh’s personal happiness, we would most certainly fail. But it is not: it is intended to form us into a man and a woman who, with all our flaws, point back to the God who made us One.

And that is what Christmas is: a season where God came to earth to unite his people unto Him. Jesus, the great Bridegroom, came in the form of a man to win the people into a new covenental relationship with God. But it was painful at times. It was a sacred sacrifice.

I remember a former coworker of mine, an elderly gentleman who was divorced, telling me, “If you have to work at a relationship, you shouldn’t be in it.” How I wish he could understand what a real marriage is! No deep, thriving relationship – regardless of the context – is easy all the time. This earth is fallen. It is not intended to be easy for us, in fact, we can expect trial, suffering, sorrow, and heartbreak in our lives both single and married.

Covenant relationship always has a cost.

But Jesus paved the way. He gave his all in order to have a perfect relationship with us; he set the example for the self-sacrifice of a perfect union.  He did not do this so we can remain as a church of quitters; he did this to show us what true love is. True love perseveres to the utmost. True love knows that trial is a test, not an obstacle to happiness. True love will persevere regardless of the hardship because if it doesn’t – it is not true love.

This Christmas, my last one before becoming Josh’s wife, I look at the sacred sacrifices of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Their lives were given up for the benefit of those they did not know; me, a Gentile, 2,013 years apart from them. And yet I receive the benefits of their sacrifice. This sacred story should not end with me when Christmas is over.

The gift of Christmas is in the Cross, and each day we crucify our self for the sake of others – especially our husbands and families – we bring Christmas alive every day of the year.

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