Christmas–like a lopsided stocking with all the goodies poking out the top—is stuffed full of longing.
But maybe not in the way you’re thinking. I’m not talking or kids rubbing their hands together over the mysteries under the tree. I’m not even fully talking about that wish to be somewhere else for Christmas, though that’s part of it.
There’s something about Christmas that also reluctantly highlights what isn’t all aglow: kids squabbling while hanging the ornaments, or tearing gluttonously through presents. Graying snow along the side of the road. Grandma’s empty chair around the table.
It’s certainly full of longing in Uganda. As I type on my quietly humming laptop, I’m thinking of Nellie, a five-year-old boy I met, who’s sitting in the balmy 80 degrees of Namuwongo, a slum in Kampala. (I know he is sitting, because he can’t walk.) In his neighborhood, a landfill stretches for at least a kilometer, spewing plastic bags and wrappers like some fairytale monster.
Some houses sit on top of the landfill, but not Nellie’s. Nellie lives nearby in a single concrete room with his grandmother. I am told he was “yellow” at birth, which is why he sat in my lap a few months back, his head lolling to the side with his constant trademark grin, despite the fact that his mental capacity is greatly diminished, or that he cannot feed himself.
What do I long for, for Nellie? I long that his doctors would have seen and treated his jaundice, like the doctors in America saw in my sister’s four kids who are right now rattling the Lego bin upstairs, cooking up all sorts of creations while we’re here for the holidays. I long for Nellie’s grandmother to have had money to pay for treatment, or for him to have his parents. Better yet? I wish we were in a world that had no such thing as bilirubin, no need for wheelchairs.
But nobody needs a handicapped child at Christmas to tell them this world is broken.
No matter in what country you’re setting up your tree this year—if you have a tree—there’s no question our souls want something more than the cracked earth on which we walk (or don’t), on which we die. No matter how many lights are on it.
C.S. Lewis once penned, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Someone: Save us.
Christmas is piled high with longing from both before it and after it. Since God’s first Eden-promise of a rescuer, millennia rolled on, war-bloodied and exile-ridden for God’s people. They labored not only beneath physical captivity—not unlike Nellie—but the crushing heft of a law they could never fulfill, leaving them distant and powerless.
Finally, a child: Born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us.
Let us find our rest in Thee.
The longing of every person who’s walked this planet is so profound, so constant, we’re perpetually trying to stuff substitutes in the gaps where He is not. Whether it’s comfort, approval, power, or security, we can’t stop our bleeding with anything else. As Augustine marveled, Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
This is the “good news of great joy”: Our Rest has come.
And the story’s not over.
Just as before Christmas was night-and-day different from the after—Behold! A people walking in darkness have seen a great light!–we, too, have our own form of Advent; a time for which our hearts beg. Because God fulfilled His first promises, we now await the next: no more tears, or crying, or pain. No more kids sacrificed to poverty; no more heartbreak in bittersweet Christmases twinkling with not just bliss, but pain.
Our Longing has a Name. Many, in fact. Prince of Peace. Strength; Joy. Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.
May He be yours this Christmas.
 Keller, Timothy. Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan (2010).