Why Be Jolly This Christmas?

Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. So we’re told, anyway. Christmas is meant to be festive. Happy. There are lights, trees, decoration, music – music everywhere.

I have some friends who absolutely LOVE christmas. You know, the kind of people who start playing Christmas music in November and turn their cars into Rudolph the red-nosed Hondas. Maybe you’re like that. If so, great! As long as your friends can handle hearing jingling bells for two straight months. But really, it’s a good thing to be excited about Christmas.

Maybe, though, there are some of you who are more like me – I like Christmas well enough and I’m no grinch, but I’m also not the sort to get up and shout about it. I do love the smell of Christmas trees and the sight of white, blinking lights on them, but truthfully, I could live without them too. These visible, outward signs of Christmas just don’t really get me that excited for long.

So I was in church a few weeks ago, secretly hoping we wouldn’t be singing Christmas carols the whole month (and feeling a bit like a Christmas pooper for thinking that), and i was asking God to help me appreciate Christmas anew, to bring new life into the songs i’d been singing for 20 years and the story about baby Jesus I’ve been hearing since I was a baby. And as I was sitting there trying to muster up some Christmas cheer, I found myself thinking about all the people for whom this Christmas season isn’t a very jolly season. People who got laid off and don’t have enough money to put a ham or turkey on the table or buy presents for their children, people who are spending Christmas in the hospital with loved ones who are sick or who are sick themselves, people who have buried or will bury their loved ones this Christmas time, people whose lives have been thrown into disarray by huge gusts of wind and waves that seemed to come out of nowhere, people dealing with messy relationships with friends or family….

I wondered, what is Christmas like for them? What if instead of gathering to celebrate, our families were gathering to mourn? What if all we wanted for Christmas wasn’t our two front teeth or anything under a tree but simply a roof above our heads? I wonder if I would hate Christmas then – if I would just see it as a season that reminds me of the many sources of pain and misery in my life. Maybe I’d be more like the grinch then. And who would blame me?

As I was thinking about that, it dawned on me, again, that the point of Christmas is that people in the situations I just described, and all others, can rejoice. I know that isn’t anything new. We’ve all heard it before: Jesus is the reason for the season. Christmas is about more than all the fanfare it brings. But you know how sometimes you know something but that knowledge seems to have lost its power? And then you get a new revelation of it – a new understanding that impacts you emotionally. Well, for me, it was realizing that these people in these situations that most of us would view as terrible do have something to celebrate, and Christmas is still a time of cheer, even if what they’re going through seems to suggest the complete opposite. The message of Christmas is a message of hope in the seemingly hopeless; of light in the darkness.

I found this quote by an Anglo-American novelist (whom I have not actually read) that says, “This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.” And we aren’t just in the company of some random nice person off the street. In Isaiah 7, Isaiah tells of the birth of Jesus and says that He will be called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” The message of Christmas is that we are in the company of a Friend who loves us at all times, who understands us and sees the pain and the suffering in the world and the hurt we experience from day to day, but also a Friend who is powerful enough to save us from that pain – not to remove it necessarily, but to promise that there is meaning in the pain.

There are those whose pain and suffering is obvious. But I think each of us suffers pain in our own way, just that for most of us, it’s easier to ignore it when there are presents to buy, food to prepare and countless Christmas cards to write. Maybe in the midst of all the noise, we aren’t even aware of the pain in our hearts. Sometimes I think the jolliness of Christmas puts pressure on us to put on a happy face all the time. “It’s Christmas! You’re not supposed to be sad.” But as I’ve said before, I think sorrow is sacred. So I pray that when we do find ourselves away from the lights and sounds (and smells and tastes) of Christmas – and life in general, because the message of Christmas is a message for the whole year – and when we let ourselves become aware of the cries within our hearts, we will also remember that Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day to answer those cries.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I pray that the truth and meaning of Christmas will be born in our hearts again. May you know the presence of Emmanuel, God with us, and understand what He came to do in you. Merry Christmas, everyone. :)

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