According to contemporary mythology, Christmas is the happiest time of the year. A time for giving, celebrating, and enjoying being with family. Many seasonal songs perpetuate that myth. Yet for many people it is far from that. Coping with the various personal tragedies which can afflict humanity, Christmas is merely a mirror of the joy they don’t have. So often church only seems to make it worse, enthusiastically buying into the seasonal activities while blissfully unaware of the isolation this can cause. Christmas can be the most unhappy time of the year.
It can be an extremely difficult time for those who have been bereaved, divorced or abandoned, particularly if that has occurred in the last year. For them this celebration will be a mockign memory of former happy times. Other people will be lonely, having no special person to share it with, and it’s interesting to reflect on how many popular Christmas songs indicate that the presence (or absence) of a key loved one is a crucial factor in whether Christmastime is happy or not. Some people will have no children but will be longing for their own children to treat, and they burn with pain each time somebody says ‘Christmas is all about the children’. With so much activity centred on the children, those who want them can feel that it just makes their lack harder to bear. Christmas can be the most lonely time of the year.
While the celebrations of many who do not have family, or have a key part of their family missing, are overshadowed by their lack, many of those who do have family will also be suffering. Perhaps loved ones are estranged, or relationships are tense, with a threat of arguments or even violence over Christmas. Others are weighed down by the burden of expectation, needing to get along with in-laws or deliver a perfect Christmas experience of food, presents and decorations, perhaps while lacking the time or the finances to do it properly and fulfil everybody’s Christmas dreams. Christmas can be the most uncomfortable time of the year.
Others will have no home at all, relying on shelters and hoping for mild weather, or will have no food to eat, or will be unable to afford to heat their homes. Others will be refugees, wondering if their community can survive international conflict or natural disaster. Christmas can be the most painful time of the year.
It is no coincidence then, that the child whose nativity we celebrate was not born into a perfect family Christmas. The were forced to be away from their home by a dictatorial empire, and quite possibly were ostracised by family due to the suspicions surrounding Jesus’ paternity. With no place to call their own, they found rough shelter in a strange town and Mary gave birth in uncomfortable and humiliating surroundings. Soon afterwards they were political refugees, on the run from an oppressive tyrant murdering innocent children who might grow up to overthrow him.
Yet Jesus came to bring hope and comfort to those who suffer. In this age through his church, and in the future in heaven, he promises better for us. For those of you who feel lonely, uncomfortable or in pain at this time of year, we offer some words of encouragement:
- Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God; blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be satisfied; blessed are you who are crying, for you shall laugh. (Luke 6:20-21)
- To those of you who can’t have children, don’t say you’re all dried up; I’ve got something better for you – a name that will last forever (Isaiah 56:4-5).
- Look! God has come to set up home with humanity… and he will wipe away every tear, and there will be no death, or mourning, or crying or pain any more. These things all belong in the past (Revelation 21:3-4).
And for those of you who are fortunate enough to be enjoying a happy, festive occasion, maybe you’d like to spend a few moments considering how you can share your company, food and joy and with those for whom Christmas is a season to be endured rather than enjoyed.