When Christmas comes with a sting
BY KIRRALEE NICOLLE
Christmas is a time of anticipation. As soon as shopping centres and department stores roll out festive displays, children begin quivering with excitement at the thought of gifts to unwrap. Family WhatsApp chats fill with food ideas and discussions of logistics. Who has the best air-conditioning or pool to best host? Who will fly or drive in swarming heat this year? And in my opinion, what is perhaps the most important question of all – who is in charge of the ham?
For Christians, we look forward to the candles and the nativity displays that remind us of Jesus, who entered a world of pain and risk as a vulnerable child to bring ultimate restoration.
However, events with great anticipation surrounding them are not always joyful. How do you feel when treatment options are running out and you suspect this Christmas may be your last? What about when the bank account is running low, and you feel a need to retreat from your excited children to grieve what you could have given them if circumstances were different?
One pain I know all too well is the gaps at the table left by family dysfunction. When each year, you eat extravagant food with a lump in your throat, wishing things were different. Christmas is a reminder that not every wound can be healed with a sprig of mistletoe, and not every heart can be warmed with a particularly good eggnog. Sometimes, Christmas just hurts.
“I wonder sometimes if our hurting souls spent more time at Christmas thinking on the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and the struggles of his mother, we might feel less alone in our own pain.”
As anyone who has been pregnant will know, anticipating the birth of a child is not always happy either. Many parents harbour fears – about their child’s wellbeing, about their capacity to care for an infant, about the state of the world or the community into which they are bringing their child.
For Mary, mother of Jesus, her fears may have been difficult to fully quantify. She was a young teenager, bearing a child with a man who was not the biological father. The government was unsafe, to say the least. In the end, she didn’t have a soft bed to birth in, or a warm inflatable pool to soothe her labour pains. Medical attention was not sophisticated or even readily available in a stable in Bethlehem. It was likely her, Joseph and some noisy animals. Talk about the makings of a traumatic birth story!
And yet, in her moment of deep need, she managed to birth the greatest source of hope the world has ever known. God’s plan is somehow providential, mysterious and confusing at the same time.
I wonder sometimes if our hurting souls spent more time at Christmas thinking on the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and the struggles of his mother, we might feel less alone in our own pain. I love The Message Bible translation of Romans chapter 8, verses 22-25, which describes how, as we anticipate Jesus’ restoration of his creation, we feel pains like Mary did:
“All around us, we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
This Christmas, I pray you can reflect on the God who sees, and the God who grieves alongside you. The God who is deeper than twinkling fairy lights, carols and perfectly wrapped gifts. The God of grit and grain, of manure and hope.