Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Newspaper column -- When Christmas Isn't Joyful

Joy to the world! The Lord is come! So the old carol goes. In the minds of many Christmas is a time of joy and happiness. Christmas is about carols, chocolates, children, and community. It involves Christmas parties and presents. It is a season when the world can pause from the everyday grind and talk about peace, hope, joy and love. Even the opposing armies in World War 1 left their trenches to celebrate Christmas for heaven’s sake!

Well the truth can be somewhat different than our perceptions. For some people Christmas is anything but happy. Maybe this is the first year after a death in the family. Maybe this year one of the children isn’t coming home for the holidays. Maybe there is added stress and anxiety because of the economic situation and the expectation to buy gifts. For a variety of reasons Christmas can be very difficult.

It is hard to go against the expectations around us. When people expect us to be happy and joyful it is difficult to tell them that we aren’t feeling that way. But it is important that people have a place and a chance to be honest with themselves and their family and friends about what they are feeling.

Faith communities should be that place. In our faith lives we should be able to embrace the good and the bad of life.

One way we have of facing the reality of a difficult Christmas is to name it openly. One way we have of doing that is a Blue Christmas service. The name comes from the song made famous by Elvis – I’ll have a blue Christmas, without you… In this service we have the chance to pause in the midst of the busy-ness of the Christmas season to name aloud any pain or loneliness or anxiety we may be carrying. We take the time to affirm the reality of those things that interfere with the happiness and merriment of the season as we seek the joy of Christmas.

Christmas comes at what is literally the darkest time of the year. The nights are the longest and the days the shortest. For some people this transfers into how they feel emotionally as well. In some places Blue Christmas services are held on Dec 21, the longest night of the year, as a way of naming the darkness and countering it with the promise of light. Because the only cure for darkness is light, God’s light can in fact help us face darkness both physical and emotional.

Being sad, or anxious, or upset at Christmas is normal. Finding a way to name and feel our feelings is as important at Christmas as it is any other time. If you find Christmas hard, or if it is just this year that Christmas is hard, you are invited to a Blue Christmas celebration on December 16 at 7:00 at Riverview United Church. Let’s take a break from the busy-ness and happiness to name the darkness of the world, then we can be ready for the coming of the light.

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