I visited a friend this week whose home is beautifully decorated for Christmas. Her tree is exquisite and holiday music fills the house. We talked as she set out a platter of sugar cookies to enjoy with our tea. We jumped from one topic to the next when suddenly the conversation turned serious. Her eyes filled with tears as she told me how difficult this time of year is for her, how much she dreads it. She lost her husband several years ago; but she still feels his absence, and never is that more pronounced than during the holidays. But to see her festive surroundings, one would hardly suspect the loneliness she still carries.
I have another friend, considerably younger, who experienced the devastating loss of her mother a few months ago. Now she is going through those "firsts." You know what I mean. She just barely gets through her first Thanksgiving without mom when Father Christmas comes pounding on her door. And rather than relieve the pain, those "holly, jolly" days of Christmas simply make it all the more acute. She's having an especially difficult time right now. Emotions are raw, the loneliness and longing for her loved one at times overwhelming.
I'll be honest. There have been times over the years that I've resented the holidays. Life in the pastorate can be especially demanding during Christmas, and because my gifts are in the areas of music and performance, I find myself taking on extra responsibilities. More often than not it has been a privilege, not a burden. But other times I wanted nothing more than to simply retreat and let the world celebrate without me. I was simply weary of the whole thing.
I believe there are many who are weary right now. Some, who like my young friend are grieving the loss of someone dear, will survive, move on and "find joy in the mornings" of those Christmases yet to come. The pain will be temporal and I am glad for them. But there are others for whom that pain remains a constant. There is little or no hope of a better tomorrow, no promise of good things to come and loneliness and despair are their constant companions. And Christmas does little for them. If anything, the loneliness becomes more overwhelming and the despair only gets deeper.
I think God has allowed me to carry a small part of that pain this Christmas. I am lonely for my children, so many miles away. I will not be with any of them this year, the first time in over 30 years. So I now understand in small part the longing that separation brings. I am also grieving for one of my own, an adult-child who sees no promise of a better tomorrow. The pain is not my own, it is his. But I carry it. God says, "There is a world full of people who don't know me. There are many in pain and without hope. And I carry that pain because I love them."
Christmas was meant to be joyous. When the angels appeared to shepherds announcing the arrival of the Christ Child, they brought a message of hope that incited those men to seek out the baby and share the wonderful news with others. "Fear not," the angel said. "I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord" ....And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest and peace on Earth, good will toward men."
There's no doubt that I have every reason to joy in the season. I am celebrating God Incarnate, Him in the flesh among us. Wow! What isn't there to rejoice in? But I also carry those "tidings of great joy" within me as a child of the Living God. And with that comes the obligation to let the hurting, the grieving, the needy, and the despairing know that there is a Hope in the person of Jesus Christ. And if I need to know a little bit of pain to catch a tiny glimpse of God's love for a broken world, then I welcome it. I can't think of a better Christmas than that.