For some of us it conjures up images of family, laughter, connection and fun. For others, just the very word triggers stress, busyness and just wanting it to be over with. And for others it only triggers pain, loneliness and dread.
A former pastor of mine used to remind us every year that Christmas is a time when the lonely are lonelier and the poor are poorer.
As I sit alone in my apartment, I know what it is to be alone, and sometimes I feel lonely. But then I sit still and remind myself that I am actually not alone, not in the sense of ultimate aloneness. I am loved, I am ok, I am good.
It can be hard though if you don’t have family around, if you’re old and no one ever visits, if you feel forgotten. Loneliness is an epidemic in our busy culture, and Christmas is the loneliest time of all for thousands of people.
As one of my new favourite songs says,
The air is so anxious
All my thoughts are so reckless
And all of my innocence has died
I wake at four in the morning
When all the darkness is swarming
And it covers me in fear
Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes
Full of anger and grieving
So far away from believing
That any sun will reappear”
When you wake in the middle of the night and there is no one next to you; that’s when you feel it. And all you can do is lie there with the aloneness. You can pray and sometimes you might have a sense of God being close and sometimes you might just feel like your prayer stops at the ceiling. It can be hard when you’re alone, especially at Christmas.
If you are lonely this Christmas, you are in good company. The baby whose birth we remember also found himself alone a lot in his life. From the very time of his birth, he was hunted. The Christmas story is good news, wonderful news, news of hope, but the occasion of Jesus’ entry into the world was nothing like what we see in the nice, saccharine, sickly Christmas cards in our shops.
Jesus was forgotten, denied, betrayed, and still he went forward in love. He personified what love is, because love gets rejected; love is often lonely because it is not returned. Jesus opened himself to rejection because he loved. And that rejection came, and he was lonely. He reminded his best friends of that when he said that “when you are hated by the world, remember that it hated me first.” He knows what it is to be lonely.
If you are alone you are never ultimately alone. And it’s because of Christmas. You are remembered, you are loved; in fact you are cherished.
It’s in the difficult times that I remember I need God, that I surrender and find the home my heart craves. Christmas is the greatest news in the world. If you don’t feel loved this Christmas, this is a love like no other. You are understood, you are heard, you are seen. And you are never alone.
Finally, read Romans 8:38-39.
Is it just me or is this Christmas busier than ever for people? Right up until this evening, I haven’t really felt like I’ve been still and thought much about the real meaning of Christmas this year.
Part of it has been to do with work; it’s been a busy time right up until today. But I’ve also been rushing around getting things organised and just having so many errands to run.
I can see why so many people just want Christmas to be over so they can get back to some semblance of normality in their lives. I certainly don’t hate Christmas; I never have. In fact all my life I’ve loved this time of year. It’s only in the last couple of years that Christmas has been particularly painful for me, as life circumstances made it a lonely time of year.
I still believe though that our society needs Christmas, if not for the actual meaning it bestows in the form of celebrating the birth of a loving and gracious God coming into the world as a vulnerable baby. But Christmas also seems to be a time when the idea of goodwill and peace to all still holds some value.
“There is no them, there’s only us” – U2, Invisible
Some mornings I wake up with a song in my head. More often than not it’s a U2 song. Their music has had a profound influence on me for many, many years.
This morning, for some reason, their song, Invisible, was playing in my head. I was scrolling through my emails and thinking of Advent, the time of waiting for the birth of Christ, in a world that doesn’t like waiting. As a blog I read this morning said, Advent is deeply counter-cultural because it is about waiting.
It was then that the lyrics of Invisible invaded my mind. Towards the end of the song come the words, “there is no them…only us”. Continue reading
100 years ago this year, during the First World War, the Christmas truce took place between British, German and French soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front. On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers from opposing sides, who were stationed there to kill each other, instead got to know one another, shared photos of loved ones, and even had a game of soccer.
This of course made their superiors furious, not just because the troops were disobeying orders, but because it is much harder to harm someone with whom you have formed some sort of relationship. The enemy is to be faceless and nameless.
The same holds true for millions of people living in poverty around the world this Christmas. They are the faceless and nameless ones. In reality though, the enemy that is poverty is not faceless. Poverty is about people, it is not about statistics. Poverty is also not just about a lack of material goods; it is more about a lack of dignity, a lack of a sense that you are important. We are reminded that poverty is always personal because it is about relationship.
Back in the year 2000, the World Bank undertook a major study of poverty from the point of view of those actually experiencing it. In the study, called Voices of the Poor, 60,000 people living in poverty were interviewed and asked what their view of poverty was. The overwhelming response was that it was about lack of power, lack of dignity, and that it drives one into despair.
At Christmas many of us celebrate the coming of God to Earth in the form of a human, Jesus Christ. Also known as the Prince of Peace, Jesus came to set the world to rights. In The Message translation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels, Jesus’ prayer starts off as,
“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.”
The more common translation that many of us would be familiar with includes the phrase, “may your kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven.”
This kingdom of God is something that Jesus talked about more than anything else. It is a kingdom of transformation, and it is transformation at every level of existence: physical, emotional, and spiritual.
In the Book of Revelation – an often difficult book to understand – it is described in terms of a promise that there will one day come a time when God will complete this kingdom and that tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4). Justice, peace and transformation will prevail. This is the promise we have from the One who was born as a helpless baby in a manger 2,000 years ago.
Jesus made poverty personal. He saw everyone he came into contact with as a person of dignity. Once people encountered Jesus, they were never the same again. They were transformed in every way. This is also our very identity as followers of Jesus. Everything about who we are is wrapped up in who Jesus is and what he has done.
God has come to earth to identify as one of us, to bring good news to the poor, to set the captives free and to restore the world to rights. This is God’s dream and it is the hope of Christmas. May your Christmas be blessed, meaningful and hopeful.
Driving home tonight listening to the ABC’s Newsradio, I heard about more fighting in South Sudan. In a country that is only two years old, tens of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives to get away from the conflict.
As I listened, first I felt somewhat numb. More bad news is nothing new, but at Christmas time it just hit me a bit more than it would normally. As I listened to the radio report, I recalled an image that is being spread around on Facebook of Joseph and Mary, pregnant with the Christ child, traveling to Bethlehem, but being blocked by the dividing wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians in that strife-torn land.
We live in such a world of conflict, hatred and self-centredness. Although official statistics say that the amount of conflicts in the world has dropped in recent years, there are still millions of people displaced, starving and being forced to do things against their will. And most of it is because of man’s inhumanity to man. Continue reading
I’ve shared at different times about the insanity of how rushed we are in December each year in the lead-up to Christmas. It’s sadly ironic that the time of Advent – which covers most of December – is designed to be a time of reflection when we have turned it into the most stressful time of the year.
Having time to sit and reflect is good for our emotional and mental health, as well as our spiritual health. We are more rounded, whole people when we spend time doing these things. And we are invariably happier as well. The fact in Australis is though that, as a nation, we spent $8billion on Christmas and $14billion on post-Christmas sales.
Richard Rohr – We Prepare for the Messiah
I receive Richard Rohr’s daily emails and they are generally brilliant. The quote that really hit me from this one is “We are all crowded on one limited planet and must somehow learn to live together while also maintaining the common earth beneath our six billion pairs of feet.” Makes me realise again how learning to live in peace is just plain sense.
Another typically confronting, in-your-face piece from this environmental journalist/campaigner. In this article he shows how disastrous is our absolute obsession with stuff. The article’s tagline is “Pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice it.” Says it all (but still read the article. You will be challenged).
This relates to my Christmas reflection I posted earlier today in which I bemoaned the fact that a wonderful Christmas show I attended at a major church in Melbourne last week didn’t even mention Mary’s song. This article is a good reminder of how we either over-spiritualise the Bible or selectively omit pieces that don’t fit with our way of thinking.
A wonderful take on what God might think of how far we have drifted from what Christmas is really about. Complete with King James language and all.
An insightful piece on the importance of Christmas for our society, no matter what your spirituality or lack of.
The Age – An Abundant Life
Barney Zwartz writes on what an abundant life actually is. Jesus’ statement in John 10:10 has been used and misused over many years to mean a number of things. Zwartz writes in his typically accessible way to show us what all the research and experiences of people’s lives tell us about abundance.
A fantastic piece from the equally fantastic Reasons for God site. This one is not so much about Christmas, but it definitely relates to it. It looks at the way Jesus responds to tragedy in the light of the Newtown shootings. God came to earth to save us from this.