Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Grieving at Christmas . . . .
I have already heard people lamenting that they hate the thought of Christmas coming - with long lines, looming bills which will come due in January, and so many chores and events that leave little time for oneself. While it can be said that we choose to be so busy, to spend so much money, and to say "yes" to too many things - that doesn't make December any less overwhelming.
There are many other people who dread the coming of Christmas without any choice in the matter - those who grieve. Just off the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen families for whom this will be a difficult Christmas. For some, this will be the first Christmas since a loved-one died. For others, the heartache which never leaves them is accentuated by the holidays. I wish that there was something that I could say or do which would ease their pain and bring them some happiness this Christmas - but, as you know, the words and deeds of men are no match for the aching caused by death.
I would, however, like to expose the idols of the American Christmas experience which make Christmas so painful for those who grieve. Many people who dread Christmas because of all they need to do and buy, do so because they have bought into the lie that it is their responsibility to recreate each year the magic that they once felt at Christmas. There is a gnawing feeling that somehow we need to create the "perfect" Christmas experience in which our December 24/25 rivals the beauty and tranquility of a Currier and Ives print. For those who grieve, the pain they feel is brought into sharper focus by the absence of family members who once made the holiday so special. Because our culture has made Christmas about family togetherness and shared-joy, those whose loved-ones are gone or separated from them by distance or broken relationships are left feeling incomplete and pitiable. Perhaps the worst offender is the message that we somehow have to "get into the Christmas spirit" if we are to have a meaningful Christmas. Those who aren't feeling it (whatever this elusive Christmas spirit feeling is) are made to feel inadequate or cold-hearted. The whole thing just feels like a red and green tinsel-wrapped guilt trip.
When Christmas is about us it is going to be broken, incomplete, and disappointing. Our lives and Christmas experiences will never measure up to the fictional magic of a Hallmark classic. When we see the Christmas idols for what they are and experience the Holy Spirit drawing our attention to the birth of the Savior, something magical happens - suddenly, it is not all about us. It's about Jesus and what his birth means for us and the whole world. For those of you who grieve, please hear the message that the baby born in Bethlehem died in your loved-one's place and answered for their sins, and because of what he has done on their behalf (and yours), they who trusted in him now stand before the throne of God in Heaven. I pray that you will not always feel the way that you do now. In the midst of your sorrows, may you know the comfort of Jesus' love for you and the strength that he gives you to cope with this terrible pain. May Christmas become a time in which you feel God's love for you in Jesus, even in these circumstances.
In Christ Jesus,