"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6
Sitting cross legged on the floor with my cousins, we huddle around a worn, plastic Christmas tree and wait for an adult to hand out the presents. We are full to the brim with warm turkey, cold ham and the prawn cocktails that we pretended to like so we could count ourselves grown up.
I can still hear my grandmother's soprano voice warbling above the rest as we sang hymns around the piano. I remember my late grandfather, ever the gentle giant, sitting at the table quietly observing his family with glee in his eyes. We would crack open bonbons, and then crack the terrible jokes we found within, and Christmas was family, Christmas was good, Christmas was "the most wonderful time of the year".
And then my parents divorced, and the face of Christmas changed forever.
I think even the grinchiest of us place certain expectations on this time of the year, andI felt a great sense of injustice every year that Christmas wasn't all that it was before, and all that I believed it should be. I wanted the silly traditions and I wanted family to look the way it always had. I wanted to be happy and soak in Christmas with the same wild and innocent hunger that I did as a child. I mourned my loss deeply.
It was only when my husband started working with people living with mental illness that I was forced to let go of my preconceived notions of what Christmas should look like.
My husband's job was always challenging and emotionally heavy, but during the holiday season in particular, he would come home from work drenched in the same devastation that he witnessed in people's lives. As I learned their stories and the reality of their suffering, I quickly became aware that up until then, a small part of my brain had always remained stubbornly naive.
While I was never blind to the troubles of others, and always knew logically that Christmas wasn't the same happy experience for everyone, it's one thing to half heartedly acknowledge that fact and another to understand and accept the searing reality of it. I had somehow believed, or convinced myself, that everyone had at least someone, especially on Christmas, and I never even considered the depth in which sadness could sink it's talons into the beating heart of people's lives.
For some, Christmas doesn't look like a carved leg of ham and glossy wrapped presents. It looks like an empty house, an empty fridge, and a tear sodden list of self-justified reasons for suicide. For others, Christmas is staring at a vacant chair that a loved one once occupied, and crying into a packet of cigarettes alone. People wake up on the same loveless streets they fell asleep on and face homelessness on Christmas, just like they do every other day of the year. Mental illness, poverty, trauma, addiction and despair do not take a holiday with us during the festive season. In fact, for many, not only does the pain remain and the loneliness endure, but often times it only intensifies on December 25th.
There are people hurting deeply out there, and this unspoken expectation and pressure we collectively put on Christmas to be all that is wonderful in the world is the cause of so much added heartbreak for those who are already struggling to experience wonder at all. It's like a merry, red gloved slap in the face.
The birth of Jesus is a victory worth celebrating, but I don't know when we all decided it was a day which must also be void of hardship, and look like the front of a Hallmark card. Any disappointment and sadness we experience seems to sting with particular ferocity around this time of year, because somehow we believe we have some kind of right to be happy in late December.
"How dare you? How dare you do this to me on Christmas?"
How could I have ever expected Christmas to always be perfect and shiny and meet all of my wants and needs, when life never falls within those parameters the other 364 days of the year?
See your family, eat good food, keep traditions, sing and laugh with hearts overflowing. These things are all good, but know that they do not sew together to create the fabric of Christmas, nor can we count on them to always be readily available to us.
The only thing that is present and constant every Christmas, no matter the imperfections of your life, is the perfect love of God.
Love so enduring, love so great, that He sent His only son to the world for us.
And here, Jesus really lived.
From the moment he opened His puffy newborn eyes for the first time, to the final moment He closed them beneath a cruel and thorny crown, He lived every inch of the human experience. He wept, He bled, He experienced hardship, He experienced loss, He died. We do not have a Saviour who exists in a lofty realm afar, unaware of the inner workings and troubles of our hearts. Jesus knows our pain intimately, was born for the purpose of releasing us from it, and remains present within it. Always.
You are never alone.
Just as Jesus is present amongst the celebration and happiness in households full of decorated trees and family cheer, He fills the vacant seats and empty corners of all the lonely homes and hearts.
And, I pray that you welcome Him with open arms. I pray that the glitter and excitement that the day can bring in no way shields you from the truth of God's unrelenting love for you, and that any hardship or sorrow you may experience pales in comparison to the joy, joy everlasting, that we can have in a God who understands our brokenness, and saves us from it.
"The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing" Zephaniah 3:17
by Mia Isaac