I know, I know, it’s not Christmas yet. It’s not even Advent yet. But today I wrote the first of my Church Newsletter and Christmas Card pieces for the upcoming seasonal period, so I’ve had Christmas on the brain a little today. The title of this post is probably a little disingenuous – I’m actually looking forward to Christmas and New Year, and anticipating the only Black Dog with any noticeable presence will be our friends’ black Labrador retriever – but I wrote this piece, which is for a regular newsletter rather than a Christmas special, in the light of the fact I hadn’t written for it in 6 months because of being under the weight of my depression. So, here’s my little piece on Christmas reflecting on the fact that life is not always tinsel and fairy-lights:
It’s been a few months since the last time I wrote for Crosstalk. The last time I did so was the June edition, 6 months ago, and of course I wrote that in May. Part of the reason I’ve not written since is that I spent much of the summer ill, and much of the early Autumn getting myself back up to speed after being off.
Being ill for a long period of time can leave us, like many other things, struggling to find joy in our lives. Indeed, when you suffer from depression, as I do, the very nature of the illness is to suck the joy and pleasure of life out of living, leaving you with simply the pain and the suffering of it.
In the midst of the darkness of suffering, whether because of an illness like depression or cancer, or the turmoil brought about by war or natural disaster, we can be left with difficult questions about life, faith, and God. Suffering and doubt are too often used as evidence people don’t have enough faith: we believe in an almighty, an all-powerful God, some say, who will not let the faithful suffer. In answer to this I wish to suggest that such responses misunderstand God’s response to our suffering.
As we approach Christmas, and the adverts attempt to persuade us that Christmas is automatically a time of fun and happiness, of family and friends, of joy and delight, it is easy to forget that for many the suffering doesn’t stop at Christmas – it may even get worse when faced with the world’s demand that you shouldn’t suffer at Christmas.
It is also easy to forget that the reason we celebrate Christmas is because it is, to some extent, God’s answer to suffering in the world.
The hymn “Once in Royal David’s City” has become unfashionable recently (and for good reasons, I might add, considering the unhelpful image of childhood it portrays), yet it contains two line of such powerful insight I am loathe to abandon it entirely: “He was little, weak, and helpless/ tears and smiles like us he knew.” God’s response to suffering and pain is not to ignore it, nor to simply remove it, but to enter into it with us, in the person of Jesus.
The birth we celebrate at Christmas is the birth of a real person, who grew like we did, who faced the challenges of life we do, including both smiles and tears. We celebrate this birth especially because in the person of Jesus it is God experiencing them. God the infinite, the powerful, the almighty became “little, weak and helpless.”
In the weeks that are to come I wish you many blessings, and the most vital one is this: that whether you experience joy or sorrow, that you might know the presence of Immanuel, “God with us”.
As we approach Advent, and as we walk through Advent to the celebrations of Christmas, may we all know the reality of a God who has not left us alone in the dark but who has come to us, is one with us, and shines, no matter how flickering and dim it may seem, as a light in that darkness.
Whether you’re looking forward to Christmas with excitement or trepidation, travel well.