Happy Christmas?

“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,
good,
bad
and indifferent.

Thank you
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
for you,
because you know.

Thank you
for your presence
in happiness and joy,
but also in pain
and weeping.

May I walk
in your presence,
hope,
comfort,
and peace;
and know you with me
whatever the circumstances

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11 thoughts on “Happy Christmas?

  1. Amen.
    The Christmas season will never be easy for me also.
    Personally I draw strength and comfort from the bloody, messy (think about it – childbirth in a stable…) reality of the incarnation and all that it says to me of God with us – Immanuel – in the bloody, messy reality of life.
    I suspect the whole “Happy Christmas” thing has more to do with the pagan mid-winter festival… chasing away the darkness, ensuring the light/sun/warmth return despite all the evidence to the contrary… our society doesn’t deal well with pain, distress, darkness, because the majority are frightened of such things, fear any experience of pain or distress, as they don’t know how to deal with it.
    The all-consuming consumerism by which we are surrounded is surely an attempt to fill a massive emptiness within. And any display of real pain or distress threatens to foundations of that attempt to pretend that all is well.
    May you know God with you as you move into 2015, Pam – God who is born into the bloody, messy stable…

      1. In my experience he usually manages to pull something off – that doesn’t necessarily take the pain, but he holds you in it

      2. yep. She’s good at that… 🙂 moment’s relief and sheer joy… shift in perspective… and then it all comes flooding back but with the memory of those moments of grace to carry you through to the next oasis.
        But at times “refusing to be comforted” is utterly the right response. Grief can’t be hurried, whether for the loss of a loved one or for the loss of an imagined future or for the loss of a present positive and rewarding reality snatched away through illness or disability.
        You – and I – know about all of those…
        and yet, and yet… Immanuel… in the bloody and messy reality, with the screaming and shouting ringing in our ears and from our mouths… and yet, Immanuel…

  2. Lots of thought to reflect on in your post and the triteness with which we approach this season which is indeed more sacred than happy.
    I feel the pain in the comments above. It is not easy when others around you seem to be so joyful and that’s why Christmas is also the loneliest time of the year for many,
    I think the wish ‘Happy Christmas ‘ is really a shortened greeting to say I wish you will find cause for joy and rejoicing despite the pain and grief and hurt because God is amongst us. He has come proclaim release to the captives, sight to the blind, …to set free those who are downtrodden and oppressed ….
    This is what I mean when I say Happy Christmas my friend. but I have to admit I more often wish my friends a holy Christmas.

    1. Thanks, that makes a lit of sense. I agree ‘Happy Christmas’ is used as a shorthand – though i think it has a lot of cultural assumptions behind it. I like your holy Christmas 🙂

  3. I agree with all of the above. And for the record, God is indeed powerful… has provided, just in the nick of time, what was needed to turn this situation around. As Abraham discovered when about to sacrifice Isaac, Jehovah-Jireh.
    in the words of the song, “there may be trouble ahead” but with the Lord of the Dance holding my hand I will continue to dance.
    Dance with me – and with Him – into 2015 🙂

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