I don’t really like Christmas. I know that’s not a very acceptable thing to say, especially in Christian circles. As the build up begins sometime in October, I feel something akin to dread settle in my gut. Whilst some embrace the season with wholehearted excitement, for me it’s more a ‘And so it begins’ kind of moment. At this point it would be easy to disappear off into a rant about materialism and the commercial nature of Christmas. I could wax lyrical about consumerism and just how many people capitalise on Christmas. But whilst that might be part of the problem, it’s not the biggest part for me. I know some of you will be ready to stick your ‘scrooge’ or ‘grinch’ labels upon my head, but hear me out.
For me, the season comes laden with pressures and expectations. Our songs and carols tell us ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’ and that it’s the ‘season to be jolly’. There’s this pressure that it will be these magical days, golden and perfect. We will have special times with all the family, cook a beautiful dinner and get everyone the presents they’ve always wanted. We try and live up to the kind of experience we perceive our friends to be having, or the pictures we see on the television. And then when we fall short-when the family argues, or the dinner is overcooked, or the presents not quite right- we feel like we’ve let people down. The season can leave behind the sad taste of failure in our mouths.
Many of our clients feel this pressure too, as they face Christmas on a tight budget, unable to get their children the gifts they would like. For them the season is full of reminders of the mistakes they have made, how they’ve got to this place, unable to provide the Christmas they would love to. Every year CAP has a Christmas hamper appeal, distributing hampers filled with food and Christmas treats to our clients (you can see some of our clients who received a hamper last year here). We got the privilege as interns of putting some hampers together this year. You start to realise just how tough things can be when such simple gifts, of biscuits or cereal, make their Christmas. Millions of families across the UK, as well as around the world, will face Christmas with empty cupboards or without a roof over their heads. The charity ‘Shelter’ predict that 80,000 children will be homeless across England this Christmas. For many this will not be a wonderful time of year.
But Christmas is the season where we coat everything in glitter, hoping we can hide the cracks. There’s this superficial jollity that we all enter into, making it hard to be real and genuine. I don’t remember when Christmas changed for me, when the excitement of childhood turned into the apprehension I feel today. But it’s been so many years now that I sometimes forget that not everyone understands. In my experience the hurts and wounds we carry, can feel deeper at Christmas time. Illness is harder to bear, grief feels closer and our heartache and pain can lurk at the edge of every party, like that unwanted Christmas present. Sorrow can be more profound when set against the backdrop of Christmas cheer. We feel the absence of the loved ones we have lost, or perhaps the emptiness of those we never had in the first place. We enter the celebrations with forced smiles and false jollity, afraid we will be found out and judged harshly. No matter how much we might wish it, our problems rarely take a holiday. Sometimes they just become a little heavier to carry.
Nonetheless we weave this elaborate façade, out of family, food and presents, supposedly to celebrate the birth of a baby 2000 years ago. But often He is pushed so far out of the festivities, that it would probably remind him of His Birthday, when there was no room at the inn. When we do remember Jesus in our nativities or Christmas cards, we make the story so clean and tidy, so picturesque and familiar, that it looses everything that makes it relevant and significant. Our stable becomes a warm, clean barn, Mary the saintly mother, Jesus the infant meek and mild. It becomes cosy and comfortable, irrelevant to those who find themselves in difficult times. Or else it’s so familiar that we loose the wonder at the marvellous absurdity of it all.
The thing is, the first Christmas was anything but lovely and picture-perfect. Mary was a teenager confronted with an impossible pregnancy, a pregnancy that almost cost her marriage. Can you imagine the fear and confusion? How many times she must have wondered why God had picked her? Then this impossible baby was born in absolute filth and poverty. The lowest of the low, a statement that no one but God would have chosen to make. His life was in danger from the moment He was born, with many desiring to kill him, before He was even old enough to stand. Jesus came into the mess of humanity, into darkness and pain.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” Isaiah 9:2
Jesus’ entrance into the world whispered of how He would leave it. Gifted myrrh to anoint His broken body when he died on the cross for us. A death reserved for the lowest of the low, one He took so as to be the final sacrifice, to cover all our darkness with His light. That night in Bethlehem a child was born who would come to know all the pain and trouble of life. The power of Christmas is that no matter how bad life gets, God is there, entering into the deepest of nights with us. We will never be alone again, regardless if this season brings apprehension or excitement. God looked upon your life, in all it’s complexity and mess, and deemed it precious, worth the life of His only son. He longs to know each of us and walk through life at our side.
So whatever this season brings, remember that beyond the glitter and the tinsel, is a God who understands. Who simply asks that we come to Him as we are, no false smiles or pretence required. No matter what we feel, no matter what this past year has held, or what the year to come will carry, He is here. He cares and will bring you through. May your Christmas be filled with peace, joy and love, but most of all with the truth of this wonderful saviour.
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. ” In our world too, a stable once held something inside it that was bigger than our whole world”
CS Lewis, ‘The Last Battle’
Merry Christmas everyone x