The song playing in Target will tell you “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, but you might feel like screeching back “For who?” A light up display on Santa’s belly in Kmart will tell you how many sleeps are left, but to you it might feel strangely reminiscent of a ticking time bomb. And if you’ve managed to suppress all that by the time you get home, you may be fortunate enough to have a three-year-old who regularly shouts “Hey Siri! How many days ‘til Christmas?” to refresh your memory/increase your blood pressure.
According to research by Relationships Australia, Christmas is considered to be one of the six most stressful life events. It’s up there with divorce, moving houses and changing jobs. And it happens every year. Apparently one North American survey found 45% of respondents dreaded Christmas time. The research conducted by Relationships Australia found that around a third of people surveyed felt their family relationships were highly negatively affected at Christmas. This came from a variety of factors such as financial worries, work-life balance factors, increased alcohol consumption, and different expectations, values and beliefs around Christmas. You may have heard that suicides increase over the Christmas period, and while the data doesn’t actually support this, this persistent urban myth does reflect the fact that we all understand how Christmas can have a tendency to exacerbate difficulties in our lives and lead us to despair. While for some Christmas is a wonderful time of year, for a large part of the Australian population it comes with less “ho,ho,ho” and more “oh no, here we go”.
For some of us it will be the increased stress of all the extra functions, end of year concerts and get togethers added to the endless buying of gifts and the financial pressure that brings. For others Christmas time means getting together with family members where relationships are strained and difficult. It can be a particularly hard time for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one in recent years, as their absence is more keenly felt. The loss of other relationships can also make it difficult: the recently divorced father spending his first Christmas away from his kids, or the older single woman in her aged care facility overcome with loneliness and isolation. Whatever the cause, it is very normal for the Christmas season not to fill us with joyful expectation.
The irony of all this is that it’s those who most dread Christmas who really need Christmas the most. Not the season itself, with all the cultural baggage it has acquired of excessive consumption and enforced jollity. But the actual heart of Christmas, and what it says to those of us who feel we aren’t quite feeling the season.
At Christmas we celebrate that God came near. Immanuel, God is with us. At Christmas we see God enter our sinful, broken, hurting world; giving up the glories and comforts of heaven to become a part of his creation for our sake. At this time when we might be most prone to feeling hurt or worried or lonely, we have this assurance: for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Christmas reminds the lonely that they aren’t alone, for he has promised to never leave or forsake us. Christmas reminds those who are feeling they aren’t loved by their family, that they are loved with a steadfast, eternal love by their committed Heavenly Father. Christmas reminds those who are frantic with stress and busyness that only one thing matters, to sit at this Saviour’s feet. Christmas reminds us all that we are so precious and loved by God that he would take frail flesh and die to win us back to him.
When we stop to actually consider what we are celebrating at Christmas, we can be comforted ourselves and offer comfort to others with these dear truths. We have a good and faithful God, who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. And that’s something worth being jolly about.