We are often asked an interesting question this time of year, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

That question reveals much about our cultural expectations for this holiday. We expect Christmas to be a season of happiness, abundance, family, food and fun.

“Getting ready for Christmas” involves decorations, food, gathering friends and family, gifts and traditions. These all contribute to our Christmas expectations.

Years ago, I heard Chuck Swindoll say that Christmas is a time when high expectations clash with the cold hard realities of our lives. When expectations are not met, disappointment creeps in.

Too many of us work overtime in December trying to eliminate the shadows of our lives and suppress our disappointments. We think that we cannot have Christmas unless we smile, spend lots of money and gather with a big family. Our reality might not be so bright. Death, divorce, disease, depression—can we have Christmas in the midst of these realities? Can lonely people celebrate Christmas?

Luke begins the Christmas story in an interesting place. Luke 1 starts with Zacharias and Elizabeth living under the reign of King Herod. Thus, Luke sets the scene and provides the context for the birth of Jesus: A dark world and disappointed people.

Herod was an impostor king; he was not even a Jew. Herod was corrupt, depraved, violent and cruel, and his reign was a dark, dark season of oppression.

Zacharias and Elizabeth lived with a gnawing disappointment. They had done everything right—loved each other, served the Lord, lived in righteousness—yet, they never had a child. They longed and prayed for a baby, but now, old and childless, they had lost all hope. Luke wants us to know something very important about the birth of Jesus.

Christmas came in a dark world to disappointed people.

You don’t need to fabricate a fantasy holiday. You can relax in your striving to attain to the cultural expectation. Let me tell you how to get ready for Christmas:

  1. Acknowledge the darkness.
  2. Admit your disappointments.
  3. Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Light a candle, turn off the lights and remember that Christmas is not only about the light of the world; it is about the Light shining in our darkness.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 CSB).