As Elvis swoons, “I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you…” I am taken back to last Christmas Eve when I was working as a chaplain in a long-term care facility. While most of the staff was finishing up their work to head home to their families, residents and other staff were just beginning to settle in for the holiday. Some residents seemed to be in a reflective mood, reviewing their past Christmases in stride with mostly happy memories. Others expressed bittersweet thoughts of the difficulties of the past year.
“Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree won’t be the same, dear, if you’re not here with me…”
The holidays tend to be difficult for some – especially those who are reeling from grief over the death of a loved one. This time of year can be especially hard for those invisible losses that are more difficult to talk about – the loss of a dream, an uncertain future or the struggles in life that remain unspoken. It’s as if the rest of the world keeps going — shopping, baking, wrapping and singing — seemingly unaware of the mix of both sadness and joy of the season, as if a blanket of snow could make the sadness go into hibernation if even for a short time.
It’s hard to talk about our grief when all around us are signs of joy and light – shiny packages, glittered ornaments and happy carols chirping across the airwaves. While Christmas is a season of joy of the Christ child who comes into the world, it is also the season where Christ meets us in our humanity. Christmas is when God shows up in the flesh. And that means that God shows up in all of it — the mix of grief and joy, melancholy and a child-like delight.
This week I came across an article that provides tips on how to write a Christmas card or letter after you’ve had a bad year. At last – someone acknowledges that it’s hard to write a Christmas card – especially after a not-so-perfect year! I’m sure you’ve all received them – the glowing Christmas cards from family and friends that make everything sound so…perfect. Let’s be real about it – life isn’t picture perfect. We all know that life isn’t delivered to us on Christmas morning tied up in a nice, big, red bow. Life is messy, unpredictable and a little crazy sometimes! Just think of how Jesus arrived in this world – in a manger, in a pile of hay, surrounded by animals in a barn. Now that’s messy! Sometimes we plan the perfect Christmas, when half the family has the flu, the dog threw up on the rug and the ham got a tad too dry. Hey – it happens. Here’s our chance to acknowledge it in a Christmas card. As recommended, we don’t need to share all of it, but let’s be brave enough to share some of our real stories with those who matter most. And then let’s express gratitude for all of what God has given us this past year.