The music is on the radio. The ads are in all the flyers. The parade has already processed through the streets and many of our friends are depressed. This is an especially hard time to be sad. We are told repeatedly to be “merry” or “have a holly jolly Christmas”. The schmaltzy Christmas movies have been on the air for some time now with their message that Christmas is all about family, especially warm functional family!
One friend spoke to me about his recurring thoughts of ending his life, as he sits in his dingy one room ‘home’. He is chronically depressed and struggles at the best of times but this season and its insipid veneer of happiness makes him feel his sadness even more keenly. He told me how he’d like to go to sleep in November and wake up in January. He does not ‘bah humbug’ or bring down those who celebrate. He slinks off to the margin and waits like a prisoner serving a sentence. The ubiquitous merriment is torture for him.
Another friend does not have a ‘functional’ family. His loneliness is terribly acute during this season. He doesn’t want to be the object of anyone’s pity. He does not want to be invited into a stranger’s festivities. He longs for a family of his own! The celebrations all around mock him and provoke him to anger. “I hate this season!” he says.
Another friend has a little girl. He does not see her often. She lives with her mother’s family. He would love to buy her a present like all the middle class dads he sees in the ads. He would “sell a kidney” if he could just to experience being that father who gives the perfect gift to his little princess. The consumerism of the season has bitten him as much as any celebrant but he has no resources. The season reminds him daily of his short comings! His feelings of inferiority and self-loathing are no longer beneath the surface. He lives with them raw on his skin like a terrible rash which cannot be ignored. It drives him to despair.
Another friend remembers, through nostalgia’s rose coloured glasses, Christmas with her family. Those family members are all gone now. The season is a terrible reminder of the gaping hole left by these losses. Her anxieties are stoked like a crackling Christmas fireplace. She is sad and lonely and agitated.
These examples just scratch the surface. I could go on. This season of joy and hope is often not experienced as such. This is due in part because of the way we allow Christmas to crowd out the season of Advent. As I talk to my friends I find myself meditating on the Advent hymn “O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel” and especially the line “who mourn in lonely exile here” I think that line perfectly describes my friends, and me. Life is difficult no matter how much we idealize it.
All the elves and reindeer, the snow men and Scrooges, even all the beatific manger scenes distract from the true wonder. God took on flesh and moved into the neighbourhood! The man of sorrows acquainted with grief, the homeless Saviour entered the world. There is hope. There is comfort (strength) here and now as we walk with he who understands all our sadness and temptations to self-pity.
Years ago my kids discovered a phrase that has helped us. The first person in our family who acted outside the bounds of the idealized Christmas would be told in no uncertain terms, “Now you’ve ruined Christmas for all of us!” This ‘first person’ was usually me and I would think to myself “Good, now that we have that out of the way we can enjoy one another in company with the One who came to save us from the power of such idols.”
This year we are hosting “A Blue Christmas” as a time for all those who find it a difficult seasons. We will sit with one another in the darkness and look to him who is our light. We will not sweep these feelings under a carpet but bring them honestly to Jesus and ask him to abide with us in our sadness and bring his hope. We believe that our new space at Stone Church will make a great venue for this celebration of Christmas comfort, the evening of December 18th, replacing our usual Purposeful Service.