“Joy to the World! The Lord is come!” The carol rang out through the radio speakers. Irritably, John leaned over and switched it off. Joy? What was that? Then he turned back to figuring out which bills he could pay this month.
Meanwhile, down the street, Lisa was sitting alone in the house she had once shared with her beloved partner, had shared that is, until the heart attack. What would this first Christmas alone be like? She put her head in her hands and wept.
Later that day, down at the food bank, Beth snuck in, hoping no one saw her. With trembling hands she handed in an application for the Christmas Cheer fund. Hopefully they could get toys for her kids. On her way out she passed Fred and asked how he was doing since his mother's funeral. Neither of them could find the strength to wish the other a Merry Christmas.
In the midst of the hustle and the bustle, the carols and the songs, the shopping and the baking, of the Christmas season is a hidden sadness for many. For some this is the first Christmas with an empty spot at the table. For some this is a Christmas spent away from family. For some the reality of low (or no) income is especially painful during this season of excess and buying. And for some Christmas has been painful for so many years that they dread the coming of December.
As members of a loving, faith-filled, community we have a duty to take the sadness, the pain, the absent joy of our neighbours seriously. We need to give people space to not be merry. We need to allow them to share their stories (if they want to) and name what reality is for them. Of course this doesn't mean we can't be merry and joyful ourselves. We just need to be aware and sensitive to those around us.
As a person of faith one way I deal with the ups and downs of life is in worship. When life is good we sing songs of praise and share joyful prayers. When life is bad we sing laments and share prayers of pain and hope. At Christmas-time we are certainly singing carols with great joy. But we are also telling a story of a God who sees the pain of God's people and breaks into the world over and over to lead us out of pain and darkness. God gives birth to hope where there is despair, light where there is shadow, and life where there is death. This is the true gift of Christmas. Thanks be to God!