If you’ve read the title of this post, you may be wondering why I’m writing about Christmas in January – a time when often all that is mentioned about the topic is the post-Christmas blues, sales, – or just the end of, what can appear to be, a joyful season of life.
While to an extent, this may not be entirely relevant until we approach Christmas in 11 months’ time, I also don’t think it’s right to let this go by without some mention of what’s been on my heart this festive period.
What immediately springs to mind when you hear the word “Christmas”?
I would imagine that the answers I’d get to this (if I were to conduct a survey) would vary, but I’d also imagine that many of them would fall within the same category. I’d expect answers to include ‘presents’, ‘music’, ‘food’, ‘drink’, ‘Santa’, ‘Jesus’ birth’ (I’d hope that would crop up), and probably also ‘family’. Many of these things are synonymous to a modern day Christmas; a time of indulgence, giving and receiving (coupled with over-spending), and a general sense of frivolity.
Yet; I get the sense that for many people, the answers that I’ve given just now don’t quite cover it all. They may cover the outward appearance of Christmas, the side of Christmas that is plastered over social media, and is generally what is ‘expected’ of people. However, where does that leave the families who have suffered breakdown and don’t know where they’re spending Christmas; with Mum or with Dad? Or the people for whom the indulgent attitudes towards food cause them pain as they recover from eating disorders? What about those who have lost loved ones in the year before – and now what was once a time for family feels very different, and they’re not quite sure they can act as if all is well? How about those who struggle financially, and are caught in the cross-fire of the media shouting about the importance of ‘buying’, and yet the real worry is how to find food to go on the table? I could go on and on with a list of people who have valid reasons to find Christmas a difficult time of year. Even without anything blaring and obvious – I know that there will be people who find Christmas hard; and that very often doesn’t get talked about.
I really started thinking about this after discussions at university with my new friends all about Christmas traditions. I distinctly remember sitting on the beach, chatting over lunch (for that matter, it was the Sainsbury’s Christmas sandwich that sparked the conversation) – and we were talking about our own individual traditions; or in my case, lack thereof. For the first time ever, I remember realising just how different Christmas was for me than for a lot of people – and not really knowing how to deal with that.
What Christmas traditions do you have?
Christmas for some can be huge, and very often timetabled down to the minute. Whether that be waking up really early, to working out which family member is to be visited when, or when the turkey has to go in the oven – I wouldn’t be surprised if for many people, they could write down a list of things that happen without fail, every Christmas.
On the other hand, my experience of Christmas is quite different. We have no set traditions – no, not even eating Turkey – and it has almost always been a small, quiet affair. Other than the fact that my dad has time off work, it could almost feel like any other day. Having a quiet Christmas is definitely not a bad thing; but the nostalgic, childhood love of Christmas has never been there. Part of me feels as if this has been my fault – in that over the years I was at school, I prioritised revision and mocks over any form of Christmas festivities. Christmas happened, and it was a day off from revision – but just passed by.
In the run up to Christmas this year, I felt challenged about my own apathy towards Christmas – because I know deep down that there’s a greater reason than food, presents and traditions for us to be celebrating. Even more important, there’s something for each and every one of us in that first Christmas – regardless of how we may be feeling.
One of the most read passages from the Bible at Christmas is the beginning of Isaiah 9; a promise of the Messiah coming to bring light.
9 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan –
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
While this passage may be very familiar to you, I want to focus on the beginning of it, rather than the end, which is more well known. Verse 2 begins “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” – and that’s where I want to begin. God knew of the pain and uncertainty of His people – and chose to send Jesus directly to them. Just like He knew then, He knows now – and is within that darkness, walking alongside us.
Finding Peace in the First Christmas
Jumping swiftly to the Christmas story – each individual plays a part within the story, but the hope of Christmas has a different impact on them, depending on their circumstances.
- We have Mary; who, as a young, betrothed woman, faced with the news delivered by the angel – it wouldn’t be beyond reason for her to ‘freak out’ (for lack of a better word). But instead, despite the uncertainty, and likely fear of her new situation, she chose to trust in God’s plan – “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:38
- If we look next at the shepherds, who were the outcasts of society – yet God chose to reveal Jesus’ birth to them first. While they were perceived as the lowest of the low, God cherished them.
- For the Magi, their journey to meet the new-born King took years – and was one of waiting and expectation; but probably also one of hardship. They had no knowledge of where they were going, instead trusting to follow the star – trusting in what may await them. We may be experiences periods of time where we’re waiting for something, and sometimes it’s hard to keep positive in the waiting. But God recognises that; and very often works not only in the end result, but in the journey too.
- And finally, we have the new family. For Joseph, Mary and Jesus – they soon found themselves refugees, hiding from a tyrant who was out to kill them. Without a home, a place to call their own – it could be easy to question where God was. But God did not abandon them; just like He doesn’t abandon us. Even if all your securities are stripped away, God is present in the same way as He was before.
Regardless of their circumstances and situations – those present for the first Christmas were able to see the joy and hope of what Jesus was to the world. Going back to the words in Isaiah, Jesus was promised as one who would be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That is true, and such a promise.
However, there are times when where we’re at in life means we can relate more with those who were ‘waiting’ – those in darkness. Being in that place is totally true and real – and to ignore that is only going to cause yourself more pain. The way we feel when we’re waiting, or in a time of struggles is real, and those feelings are no less valuable than those of who are jumping for joy. But; the promise found at Christmas of real joy is there for everyone. And in reality, as Christians, we’re all in a period of waiting. Waiting for when Jesus comes to the Earth for a second time – and we see the true beauty of life as God intended.
“The promise found at Christmas of real joy is there for everyone.”
Despite how you may be feeling, there is real value in the lessons of the first Christmas – and being expectant of those promises.
I know I struggled with Christmas this year – and I don’t want to brush past that. Maybe that’s because of where I’m at, or maybe there are other factors. Either way, this is a conversation I want to have with people; those on either side of the coin. You’re valuable, and you matter – whether you felt like a Christmas elf or whether you identify more as Scrooge.
Expectations vs. Being Expectant.
I started off talking about what our expectations for Christmas are, whether that be how the day runs, or what we want to be seen to be doing to ‘enjoy’ Christmas. Maybe we feel as if there’s an unspoken checklist of things that you have to do in order to be ‘doing Christmas properly’. Perhaps we’re too caught up in other peoples’ demands (real or imaginary), to actually enjoy the day itself.
The World vs. The Word
But this only illustrates for me the battle between Worldly expectations, and being expectant for the Word. The gospel of John opens with this verse:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
Jesus is the Word of God – and Christmas is all about His coming into the world. But it also holds promises for NOW – and is not just some story that happened 2000 years ago.
If we’re to be expectant of something at Christmas time – which are we choosing? For while we can feel failed by the world’s pressures of joy and happiness even when our circumstances feel nothing like that – being expectant for Jesus gives us promise of true joy, despite the darkness.
Being expectant for Jesus is certainly a choice; but in choosing to seek Him (all year round, and not just in the run up to Christmas) we will see a shift in the importance of worldly things, as they fade into insignificance in His light.
Jesus not only came to the people in darkness, but is present in it now. He acknowledges it; and shares in our pain. To struggle at Christmas is a reality for many people – one that isn’t spoken about. Yet I know that one day there will be a time when people struggle no more – and that is the hope we can find in Jesus.
I don’t want to just leave this here, but would love this to start a conversation. One of the most powerful things when talking about life in an honest way is being able to hear “Me too” – yes, I feel that too. If any of this has touched something, even if you hadn’t realised it before – then please get in touch. Send me a message, leave a comment, find me on social media – I don’t mind. But this is too important to say once and to leave it there.
If you’ve made it to the end, well done. It’s a long one, but it’s truthful.
Our God is good, mighty and all-powerful. He also loves His creation dearly; and that means you and me.
Till next time,