Are you preparing for your worst Christmas ever?
The consensus seems to be that the year 2020 in general, right up through the Christmas season, has brought nothing but illness, poverty, loss, and despair to most (if not all) the people I know.
Personally, I have no complaints about this year. It’s been a good year for me, for many reasons. The anxiety surrounding the pandemic, the social isolation and the economic challenges,the sense of loss we all share, are emotions that I have met many times before and I’ve developed my own array of coping skills. In short, 2020 doesn’t feel much different from other years for me. (And actually much better in some ways!)
But I’m aware that the fear, sadness, loss, and isolation is tough to take for most of us. Are you alone, separated from family during the holidays? Are you stuck at home with a toxic or abusive family member? Are you facing job loss which makes it hard to afford gifts for your children? Or maybe you have even lost a loved one this year. All these situations make Christmas feel like a giant, aching void of what should be, but isn’t.
I can remember many years when the Christmas season was a struggle. There were years when the recent loss of a new baby tortured me with the “should have beens.” There were other years when a toxic marriage, with constant fighting, was a giant crushing weight on my chest. And of course, there were all the years as a teacher and a single mom when I agonized over how to afford all the things on my children’s Christmas list.
Not to mention all the stress. Shopping (my least favorite activity!), baking, wrapping, and attending parties, all while trying to work full-time and care for a family made Christmas often feel like a chore.
Speaking of “should have been,” is Christmas supposed to be a chore? Is it supposed to be a lavish display of gifts that drives us to the brink of financial ruin? Is it supposed to be an aching reminder of everything we’ve lost?
To answer these questions, I ask myself what the birth of Christ really means. It’s more than just a sweet story of a baby in a manger. Jesus’ birth means that God came to Earth and lived as one of the humblest of humans, a human who didn’t even have a place to sleep besides an animal’s feeding trough. He endured suffering, loss, illness, and hardship…even though He was God. As Emmanuel, “God with us,” He brought sacredness to the condition of being human.
He brought holiness to our feelings of loss, hardship, and suffering. He gave honor to the poor, the ill, and the grieving. All these conditions are tinged with the holiness of God, because God was a human and experienced them all. In this way, our suffering, our loss, our fear, our need have become places where God truly walks with us.
You hear it in the words of the hymns and carols.
“Chains He will break, for the slave is our brother, in all our trials born to be our friend.” “And in despair, I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to all.” “I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you.” “I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams.”
The true spiritual meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with gifts, food, or even family, although it’s always wonderful to have the opportunity to celebrate these things. Christmas, at its heart, is about all the ways in which our humanity (and our pain) have become holy.
Even nature gives us this message. Has anyone noticed how gorgeous and stunning the colors of sunrise are during Solstice? And the snow covers all nature’s flaws with a smooth blanket, bringing the promise of a better tomorrow. To me, these are God’s signs that even in the darkest seasons of our lives (like the year 2020!) He is walking with us, giving us beauty along the way.
So if you are lonely, fearful, or grieving today, then you have more reason to celebrate Christmas than anyone else. Because of Christmas, you can open your heart to feel God’s Spirit, Emmanuel, God within you, comforting, supporting, encouraging. Because of Christmas, you can walk with confidence that sunrise and spring will always come again, and that you never have to endure the cold and darkness of your life alone. Even in 2020.
So no matter where you are, or who you are, embrace the holiness, and enjoy a Merry Christmas.