No matter what the Christmas songs say, Christmas is not necessarily holly and jolly for everyone.
At Christmas time some look at the empty chair, or the place that was once occupied by the one they loved whom is not there anymore ,and at that moment, the happy songs mock the true grief that some people feel at this time of year.
Some folks argue over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” and yet, neither merry nor happy are welcome words for a large number of people.
Grief is not a welcome emotion in our world – it is often met with advice such as “count your blessings, there are lots of people in worse positions” or “don’t worry, God needed another angel” or “look on the bright side, be happy.”
Although this advice comes with the best intentions and makes logical sense, logic cannot remove pain. No matter how hard any of us try, our brains cannot convince our hearts that we are not sad. The most logical advice cannot take away the sadness of losing someone – one year or 40 years later.
Jesus cried when his friend Lazarus died – he felt what you and I feel: fully human, fully divine. There is nothing wrong with feeling sadness – feelings are not good, or bad, they just are.
When the Christmas story is told, often combining the biblical versions presented by Luke and Matthew (did you know that the Shepherds and the Magi never visited Jesus at the same time according to the two accounts?) there is the whispering of angels, there are shepherds watching over their flocks by night, there are wise ones from the east following a star, there are big-eyed animals (including a donkey) standing around a straw-stuffed manger.
The gospel of Mark has none of these. For Mark, the good news of Jesus Christ begins in the wilderness of Judea, with a prophet named John, the first real prophet to show up in Israel for well over 300 years.
John comes to fulfill a prophecy, that “every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways be made smooth … and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Well we all know that certain seasons and certain circumstances in life make it difficult for people to see the salvation of God. Every living soul knows situations that cause grief. Grief is the result of loss; loss that comes from any number of changes: a death, an illness, a move, a lost friendship, a broken relationship. It is sometimes totally out of our control and sometimes it is the result of choices we have made. Grief is a common, human experience.
Grief can make us feel as if we are living in the wilderness: far away from home, in a cold, dark place with no familiar landmarks. Sometimes that dark, unfamiliar place is simply the inside of our heads, which can be a very lonely feeling in itself. Sometimes the cold, dark place is all around us, where we feel ourselves on the outside of love and friendship, wanting to get in, but not knowing how. That, too, is a sad and lonely place to be.
I don’t know where your lonely place is, anymore than I know what grief you bring with you into your life. No one else really knows what, or how, you feel.
It’s hard to put into words. It’s hard for any of us to lay it out on the table, to analyze or pray about it.
That is one of many reasons why people belong to a church. We need a place where we can acknowledge events and circumstances that cause grief, to acknowledge in the safety and serenity of that place and of that gathered community that it is not how life is supposed to be. We need places to acknowledge that cold and darkness and being an outsider are not what we are made for.
We are reminded that the first Christmas did not happen in a vacuum, that the Christ-event was part of a long evolution in the work of God. From the very creation of the world, God has been working to bring salvation to humankind.
Through the people of Israel, God sent light shining in the world. That light shines on us, calling us to come in from the dark, calling us to name the dark and sorry and wounded places within us and between us, and not to hold onto them alone.
We are reminded that we are made to be in relationship and to share our stories with each other.
On December 24 many people will gather to remember a story of an ordinary birth. Jesus being born was such an ordinary thing – children are born every day and sadly die everyday. We celebrate an ordinary night as the most extraordinary juncture in human history, for on that night eternity invaded time, and the sacred embraced the profane.
God does not come in the time nor the way that we predict. Who anticipated that a teenaged single mom would bear God?
Who expected that those kicks in her belly would incite her to dream of a day when the lowly would be lifted up and the hungry would be filled?
On Christmas Eve, we await the coming of a homeless baby, born to a teenage mother in a shed in an occupied country – and this we call hope.
So at this time of year when grief is rampant and people seek places to share the stories of pain and hope and peace and joy and love that exist for so many, communities will gather and once again tell an ancient story. And in that telling of the story, I pray that the Christ be born again in the hearts of the hearers. And may that birthing of the Christ help people change the world.
If you are seeking a place to hear this story and be part of a community gathered together, know you are welcome at the churches in Barriere.
The Church of St Paul (Barriere) will be celebrating Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. on December 24. Contact the other churches directly to find out when their services are. Whether it is ‘Merry’ or not, may it be a Christmas that you will remember.
By Rev. Graham Brownmiller, Church of St. Paul, Barriere