“Happy Christmas”, the ubiquitous greeting of the season (or even worse “Merry Christmas”).
When did we come by this insistence on being happy in life?
Many people are in a circumstance that is far from happy – but still we think they should be. Especially linked to the ‘perfect’ family Christmas.
But life is not like that. People are in pain, missing someone, missing anyone, alone, hungry, sad, struggling with bad news or any number of other situations that mean they are not ‘happy’ – but that does not mean Christmas, or more especially God, is not for them or with them – but it doesn’t have to be happy.
Today happens to be the Feast of the Holy Innocents. A Day to recall Herod’s fury at being outwitted by the Magi and God and takes it out on the infants of Bethlehem:
Matthew 2:13-18 (NIV)
The Escape to Egypt
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.“Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
Rachel is weeping. She cannot be comforted. There is no comfort for a child ripped from its parents in whatever circumstances.
Culturally we are rubbish at acknowledging people’s pain and anguish. We certainly don’t like public displays of it. Much easier if people could at least play along at being happy. But that is not acknowledging real life. Rachel is weeping. That is how it is. Real life and emotion are allowed. There is no sticking plaster, no chivvying to cheer up, she is comfortless. That is her reality – and it is ok to be so. A healing will grow, she will be able to live with the raw pain, but not today. Today is a day of pain and raw emotion. And God is in that. He sits with it, with her. God holds her and all who mourn, and weeps too. Our pain is God’s pain.
Surely, church should be the one place where we should be able to be real and honest, to open up to how it really is; but we are not much better at it. We should give space for however people are feeling – bad and good.
Christmas has long been a struggle for me. I know I am by far the only one. This year is even worse, the Circle of Life has gone very wonky. Yes there is hope and promise – but not today. “Happy Christmas” grates. Yet to be honest I’m not sure how you phrase it better.
Why do we have to be happy? Yes I am grateful that God is born in human form, but does that mean I have to be ‘happy’, fixed grin, false jolliness and the lot? Surely if the good news of God born among us means anything, it means that he is with us in the good times yes, but also in the dross and pain. That is what the coming of Jesus, and the power of it, means to me – that he is with me however I feel.
I’m with Rachel in her pain. So are many others. I’m musing on a culturally acceptable way we can acknowledge that, and get away from the assumption that just because it’s Christmas everyone is having a fabulous time.
So I wish you the ongoing love, hope, peace and comfort of the Christ-child. God born among us. God with us – whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, whatever time of the year.
Thank you Lord
for coming to earth,
for coming to reality,
for experiencing human life,
that your presence is not just for good days,
but for how it is;
that I don’t need to pretend,
or put on a good show
because you know.
for your presence
in happiness and joy,
but also in pain
May I walk
in your presence,
and know you with me
whatever the circumstances