For many, Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. But we all know someone for whom the holidays are anything but merry. For the bruised, battered and brokenhearted, those who are grieving, and those whose circumstances are anything but what they would choose, it is hard to put on a happy face for Christmas.
What makes Christmas less than merry for some of us? There are countless answers to this question, but here are some of the usual suspects that seek to steal the joy of Christmas:
- The busyness of the season causes fatigue, disappointment with ourselves and others, and can suck the joy out of our lives.
- The focus on exchanging gifts, special holiday events, parties, and travel, rarely lives up to expectations and can create financial stress for months after Christmas is over.
- Family gatherings at Christmas may be marked by tension and unpleasant memories.
- Christmas can be a reminder of being alone, and that dreams of marriage and family are increasingly unlikely.
- Deteriorating health or terminal illness can be overwhelming and drain financial and emotional resources.
- Ads and commercials often portray a standard of living and lifestyle that is out of reach
- Unemployment or being stuck in a dead-end job can quench hope, especially at Christmas.
- Grief over the death of a spouse, parent, child, or close friend is often felt more intensely at Christmas.
- Christmas can be alienating for those who have no family or friends, especially as they watch others around them revel in the merriment of holiday festivities.
Reading through this list is sobering. Wow! Is it really that bad for some people I know at Christmas? How can there be “joy to the world” and merry Christmas for everyone if many feel left out because of life’s devastating circumstances?
The good news is that none of life’s difficulties, defeats or disasters are outside of the loving care of our God. In fact, Christmas came because our world was held captive to the sorrows and shame of a world ravaged by selfishness and brokenness, sickness and death.
A merry Christmas is not just for people who have it all together, who live a life of ease, and have plenty of joy all year long. This is evident in the circumstances of the very first Christmas:
- The joy of Christmas came to a young couple whose engagement was threatened by an unexpected, though miraculous, pregnancy (Matthew 1:18-25);
- The joy of Christmas included a difficult journey for this young couple as they were forced by a foreign despot to travel in the ninth month of the pregnancy (Luke 2:1-5);
- The joy of Christmas was not shaken by the fact that there was no room in the inn, so Jesus was born in a dirty stable (Luke 2:6-7);
- The joy of Christmas was first announced to shepherds (Luke 2:8-20), those who were working the night shift, sleeping out in the cold with the sheep;
- The joy of Christmas included the aged Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) who was waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise that he would not die before seeing the Messiah;
- The joy of Christmas also came to the “very old” widow Anna, who was only married for seven years, and was 84 when she met Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus (Luke 2:36-38);
- Finally, the joy of Christmas came to Magi, the wise men who traveled far from home in the East, and followed a star to worship the newborn King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-12)
We also know that not everyone rejoiced at the birth of Christ on the very first Christmas. Alarmed by the Magi’s quest to worship the newborn king, Herod felt threatened and proceeded to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area (Matthew 2:16-18). Imagine the weeping and mourning for the families who lost a baby son.
Herod’s jealousy and murderous rage caused another unwanted journey for Joseph, Mary and Jesus, as they proceeded to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). It helps me to remember that even for Joseph and Mary, the joy of Christmas did not eliminate personal challenges and life- threatening difficulties!
While we should be sensitive to those around us who may not easily embrace the joy of Christmas in this season, may we never forget that a merry Christmas is for everyone, especially those who are bruised, battered and brokenhearted.
Two days before Christmas in 2016, we got the dreaded telephone call reporting lesions on my wife’s pancreas and liver. Just over nine months later, the Lord promoted Patti to heaven, despite the prayers of many for healing here on earth. Last Christmas was the first one that my family celebrated without Patti. As we approach Christmas 2018, I want you to know that the joy of Christmas includes those who mourn and grieve the loss of a loved one. It is for me and my family, but it is also for you, no matter what difficulties and challenges you are facing. Jesus came into our world because we all need the joy of Christmas—the Good News of forgiveness and eternal life, which begins on earth and gets remarkably better in the new heaven and new earth, where there will be no more sadness, sickness, or death.
So, wherever you find yourself this Christmas season, Merry Christmas one and all!