It’s hard to believe, but Christmas is just days away. Are you stressed? Of course, you are. Many, if not most, of the people reading this are stressed. I feel it too. As a married father of two, I’m working to pay bills, buy gifts, and pay bills for the gifts I’m buying. Truth be told, my wife has done most of the shopping, which I’m sure is stressful for her because she also works outside the home. Why though is a season that we say is about giving and fun and Linus reciting Luke 2 every December on ABC make us so crazy? In short, it’s because we have taken the joy out of Christmas.
Pastor and author Wendell K. Grout wrote about this half a century ago in Some Folks I Know:
“Professional counselors report a decided increase in melancholia among their clientele during the Christmas season. Numerous cases for this could be given. Many people get depressed with the string of bills that remind them they overspent when purchasing gifts. An empty chair at the family table is a mute reminder of the loss of a loved one and often brings stabs of sorrow. Some find that being away from home at this time of year puts them in a mood of despondency. There probably are guilt feelings accompanying the over-indulgence in festivities which do not create happy mental attitudes – especially at a time when half the world is ill-clothed and underfed.
But I suppose one of the strongest depressants to people’s spirits is the extreme frustration that comes from getting far less than we expect from the “jolly season.” We are never quite as happy as we thought we would be. And when January rolls around and we look in the alley at the battered, brown Christmas trees with boughs blowing forlornly in the cold winter wind, we wonder if it was worth all the effort, energy, and expense.
In contrast to this gloom, it is instructive and helpful to study the joy experienced by those who celebrated the first Christmas:
Gabriel experienced the joy of revelation (Luke 1:31-33).
Mary experienced the joy of dedication (Luke 1:46-55).
The angels experienced the joy of annunciation (Luke 2:9-11).
The shepherds experienced the joy of authentification (Luke 2:15-18).
Simeon experienced the joy of consolation (Luke 2:25, 28-32).
Anna experienced the joy of communication (Luke 2:36-38).
The Magi experienced the joy of adoration (Matthew 2:11-12).
In each case, the celebrants were focusing on the Christ, their Messiah. Theirs was a Christ-centered Christmas. In the measure we follow their example we, shall experience their joy.”
How you get Christmas back on track is up to you, but if you need some ideas, I’d start with the joy of consolation. The term “consolation” means the act or an instance of consoling. In other words, someone whose mourning the death of a loved one is consoled by all the cards and letters she received in the mail. A great way to console someone is to take a page out of Heather Sartin’s book. Heather works for an assisted living facility in northeast Mississippi. She noticed a few years ago that many residents receive few if any gifts at Christmas. Some of the residents do not have children. Others might not have money left over after paying their bills. So Heather challenged her church to collect and distribute laundry baskets packed with food and beverages, puzzle books, blankets, and other items to residents. What began in 2013 with just ninety-eight baskets for people in one facility expanded to cover all nine assisted living facilities owned by Sartin’s employer’s parent company. Other churches are now participating, as well as schools.
“In 2015, we had a total of 1006 baskets,” Sartin told me earlier this month. “As of right now, we hold steady at that number and cover about twenty-two facilities.”
Other things you can do to experience and share real Christmas joy include spending time with elders from your church. Time is a precious gift that few people have, so take your elders some cookies. Talk with them about what Christmas was like for them as a child. I’m still trying to wrap my head around my elders getting pennies and oranges for Christmas. Today, kids in America might throw pennies and oranges at you. Thanks, consumerism.
Another idea for Christmas is to simply look around and see who is in need. Do you pass by someone that always seems to be walking to work? Give them a ride. Are there homeless people in your area? Buy a backpack and stuff it with food, water, and weather gear. Homeless people are not only in need of a safe place to stay. I know a lady in D.C. whose boyfriend gave her five backpacks like this for her to give to homeless people she’s mentioned to him. Those homeless people have a need. This boyfriend, I don’t even know his name, helped supply that need. I admire him for that more than he will ever know.