Is someone missing from your table this year? Has someone you love passed away since last Christmas? Or is there a family member who lives far away or is serving overseas? Or has someone distanced them self from the family because of estrangement, rebellion, or a lifestyle in opposition to what you believe? Whatever the reason, it hurts to see the empty space they used to occupy. I know. It can dampen your holiday cheer and the joy of the season.

Almost every family is missing someone for one reason or another. Because of that, many dread the holidays, and yet, that is one of the main reasons why Jesus came. Jesus, the Son of God, came in the flesh to show us the Father’s love and to identify with our pain and aching need for relationship – with Him and with each other.

So do we just pretend there isn’t a hole in our heart from November through January? No. Here is what God has been speaking to me lately about this very thing; the four R’s regarding the one I miss this year:   

·         Remember
·         Reality
·         Release
·         Rejoice

First of all, remember the person that’s not there. If they have passed on or live far away it’s easy to talk about them with sweet longing, and it’s healthy to do so. If they’re not with you by choice, rather than doing an awkward dance around the elephant in the room, why not mention them in prayer, or speak lovingly of them? This may be a little harder in some cases than others, but it is healing and might help breach the gap widening between them and other family members.

Secondly, face reality with hope. Death, divorce, drugs, and heart wrenching experiences can take loved ones from our presence. We can’t deny what is. But neither do we have to give in to despair. There’s always hope for forgiveness, healing, or a change of heart – theirs as well as ours. So hold on to hope. We never know what wonderful blessings God might have waiting in the next breath.

Third, we need to release our grip on the one we love and our desire to control them or the situation. Release them to Christ and His good and perfect plan for them, and us. This is the hardest one for me. At times I realize I’ve been holding them so tightly to my heart that I’ve gotten in the way of what God wants to do in their life. So I pry well-meaning fingers from my loved one and release them to His care, again.

Finally, let’s rejoice in the people we are with this Christmas. Whether we’re with family members, church friends, neighbors, or co-workers, we have reason for rejoicing. Christ has come – bringing hope, peace, joy, and love to our world, to all who will accept Him. And that empty place at the table? Let Jesus fill it with His presence and embrace all who gather there. It’s time to celebrate!