‘ Of all the times for this happen, somehow it’s even worse just before Christmas.’
The other day I was chatting to our window cleaner – just saying this makes me feel more grown up than I actually am. He was about to go the funeral of a lady who was killed by a car just down the road from us a couple of weeks ago. It’s a complete tragedy – another family torn apart by the grief of such a sudden loss. We chatted as he unloaded his car with ladders and buckets and when he’d finished he slammed the boot shut and turned to look at me and said; ‘Of all the times for this happen, somehow it’s even worse just before Christmas.’
He’s right. Pain feels more acute at Christmas. Struggle, loss, disappointment, fear and anxiety can overwhelm us way more as we approach the 25th of December than at other points in the year. I think it’s partly because this time of year signifies the end of a season and the beginning of a new year and it can be a painful reminder that our life doesn’t measure up to what we hoped it. If we’ve experienced some kind of unexpected loss, the struggle of physical painor a longing that was never realised; Christmas has become the season that seems to point out the glaringly obvious – that our life doesn’t measure up to what we and the world expects.
Lament is the articulation of pain and at its most raw I imagine it would be expressed as a groan and right now if this is where you’re at then you’re not alone, the whole of creation groans with you.
Romans 8:22-24 talks about the whole of creation groaning as in the pain of childbirth – I know this illustration is a painful one to swallow for those who wish they could experience the pain of childbirth. But I believe the yearning and groaning of those who never gave birth is equally as visceral as the experience of childbirth, plus it goes on a hell of a lot longer than any birthing story I’ve ever heard of. My conversation with my window cleaner and so many other people this month is a reminder that this groaning of creation is still a very present reality. Lament is the articulation of pain and at its most raw I imagine it would be expressed as a groan and right now if this is where you’re at then you’re not alone, the whole of creation groans with you.
Somehow we’ve become lost in the idea of who Christmas is for. Now I love a good cheesy Christmas film and singing along with all the classic Christmas tunes that have been playing non-stop in every public space since some time in November. But if we’re honest the message of most Christmas films and songs tell you that it’s bad to be alone this Christmas and it’s less than ideal if you’re single or childless. I was chatting to a lady in a car park yesterday and she told me ‘Christmas is really all about the kids’. I love to see the excitement kids have as they count down how many sleeps until Christmas, we had an awesome Christmas celebration service at church on Sunday involving a lot of chocolate and the kids (and adults) loved it. (I was also really glad I wouldn’t be around later on in the day when all the kids had a melt down following their excessive sugar intake). But Christmas isn’t just for kids, it’s not just for loved up couples or large families, or those whose are amazing cooks or whose homes look like the front of a Good Housekeeping catalogue.
Luke’s gospel begins with songs of praise to God, but they’re not sung by someone who looks like Mariah Carey
Christmas was never designed to be something so many people dread. It was never meant to be a season that made your pain worse or pointed out where your life doesn’t measure up. The birth of Jesus itself was received with so much joy by those who had spent so much of their lives groaning. Luke’s gospel begins with songs of praise to God, but they’re not sung by someone who looks like Mariah Carey or has just had a promotion and bought a holiday home by the sea. These words of praise come from the mouths of an old barren couple, a young women with little to her name whose reputation is about to thrown into disrepute and a heavenly host of angels. There’s a line from one of my favourite carols O Holy Night, that articulates this upside down celebration so beautifully as it declares ‘A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices ‘ (I’ve posted the lyrics at the bottom of this post for you to read them slowly and let them inhabit your soul).
The majority of songs, social media posts, images, films and conversations over this Christmas period may leave you feeling incredibly lost and lonely and make your pain feel even more acute. But there is a louder song that sings over you this Christmas and it’s one sung by an unlikely chorus of heavenly angels, barren couples and young women with very uncertain futures and they’re inviting you to join them as they celebrate the birth of Jesus. The beginning of Immanuel – God with us. This is a song of hope for the broken, the weary, the lost, the grieving, those who despair, who struggle with physical pain or disabilities, poverty, shame, unforgiveness, anger and hopelessness. It’s a song that declares your suffering does not have the final say. God has not forgotten you. He loves you. He weeps with you and He longs to be with you and sing over you this Christmas. So let him, invite him into your heart and may his song of love be the louder song this Christmas.
O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night O holy night
O night divine
Led by the light of faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here came the wise men from Orient land
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our Friend
He knows our need
To weakness is no stranger
Behold your King
Before Him lowly bend
Behold your King
Before Him lowly bend
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord
O praise His name forever
His power and glory
His power and glory
Thank for your lovingly and kind words. At this bittersweet time of Christmas, to be reminded of Jesus’ love for everyone, especially the marginalised and those in pain means a lot to me. Thank you. Lots of love, Linda xx
Hi Linda, thanks so much for your comment, I’m so glad this post has encouraged you and pray God brings you comfort over Christmas and as you enter into the new year xxx
Yes, I have recently taken funeral services for 3 young men aged between 18 and 41. Families left torn, children left without an adored Dad. Today’s society does not cater for young men needing somewhere safe to unload their problems and be listened to. Can someone out there provide a space and some ears to listen?
Hi Margaret, thanks for your comment. Yes, I totally agree there needs to be a space to grieve especially for men. I know people who have tried with limited success and think partly it’s due to the cultural expectation on men to remain ‘strong’ and there aren’t lots of great examples of peers and family histories where men have expressed their struggles. I think it is improving but we have a long way to go. There needs to be a greater understanding that vulnerability requires even more courage than keeping quiet.