“It’s gonna be a blue Christmas without you….” Can it really be so long ago that I listened to Elvis sing it? It pops up all the time, because it reflects something so true in our lives. There are losses that haunt us, especially at the times when our world wants us to be jolly and look back at our holiday memories with sweetness and delight. For many of us, the memories we carry are not jolly or sweet, and the holidays with the demand that we celebrate, can make us anxious and sad. For those who have recently lost a loved one, we are doubly aware of the empty place in our lives, being surrounded by others can’t fix it. For those who have lost a job or who have had financial emergencies, the constant reminder that you are not able to give your family all the toys and goodies that are expected can make us feel degraded.
People struggle with health issues, addiction issues, and those for whom life is already difficult have their fears and failures magnified by the constant pressure to be happy, to be loving, and to attend all the special events around these holidays. We are a forgotten tribe, those of us who suffer and who can’t get ourselves together for all the joy and gladness expected of us. We feel the pressure spiritually as well. We are afraid that if we are not greeting the birth of the Baby Jesus with the proper respect and celebration, we are not really good Christians, after all. Another failure to heap upon ourselves. We forget that God knows our sorrows so well, and that God is well acquainted with grief. We forget that God loves us as we are, and wants us to find comfort in bringing all our failures with us as we climb onto God’s generous lap to weep and be held in love. The message of Jesus’s birth as a real human into our real world is that God knows all our pain and suffering, all the memories that haunt us, and the failures that steal our joy.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” cries the Psalmist (Psalm 13: 1). But Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Perhaps it’s important for those who suffer at this time to push aside their baggage about church and about Christmas, and just come. Come in from the cold and loneliness of the past and the struggles to get our lives straightened out, to just sit in the presence of the baby God sends us as a promise of new life. Perhaps reminding ourselves that God expects nothing from us but our presence will be the mercy that begins to heal our hearts. We are so afraid that no one else bears the same burden that we do, that we often hesitate to go where the healing is. Perhaps this year is the year to remember that those gatherings in church are filled with people just like us, daring themselves to sing the songs and hear God’s promises. Perhaps this is the year to come home to church to find whatever blessings await us. I hope and pray that you will find the peace that passes understanding as you witness once again the birth of new hope in God’s entry into our world. I pray that as the year turns back toward the light, you will remember, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth, even forevermore (Psalm 121:8).”