Christmas is such a mixed bag for so many people most any year. Everyone deals with the varying religious traditions, family rituals, and the overblown commercialization of gift giving. Add to that the loneliness many feel during the holidays as well as the emotional connections to past experiences that can be difficult. But we are used to all of that, aren’t we? We deal with this every year. This Christmas feels different, just like this year has felt different.
How many people are celebrating Christmas alone this year, due to fears of spreading coronavirus? Those who made the transition this year from independent living to nursing home or assisted living structures are unable to have family or friends visit with them. Even if you live at home, to have multiple families join you for extended periods of time in closed-in places is risky at best. Some people who are struggling with health issues already cannot add COVID-19 to the list and survive.
How many people are facing a Christmas season for the first time without a loved one?
How many people are facing a Christmas season for the first time without a loved one? In our country we are over 300,000 deaths from the virus. That’s a lot of empty chairs at the Christmas tables across America. We can’t forget the many who lost their jobs or businesses during this time of restriction and recovery. Through no fault of their own, the financial damage is done.
In Louisiana, there are many people who are still recovering from two profound hurricanes that did a tremendous amount of damage. Some are still displaced and uncertain.
Mental Health Impact
This reminds me of what my friends Nick and Amber White at Firm Foundations Family Counseling (and many other therapists) say often: the mental health impact of this year may be greater than all of the other impacts. So, how’s that Christmas looking?
I think one of the things we need to avoid is glossing over the Christmas season, especially this year. This post is not meant to be depressing, it’s meant to acknowledge that Christmas is different this year. We can pretend it’s not, but ultimately that will work against our spirits. There are enough Christmas movies, gifts, foods, and decorations to distract us for a bit. Maybe that’s ok for a while, but I’d recommend that we not ignore the struggles.
But that’s not to say that there’s no joy to be found in Christmas.
There is joy – that is a constant in our lives. I think it’s just that this year the joy will coexist with the sting of 2020. When some of those discordant emotions and feelings come your way during this season of lights and gifts, I will simply encourage you to think about the first Christmas. That is what all of this activity is about, after all. I think we can find some solidarity with the uncertainty of Joseph, the discomfort of Mary, the disconnectedness of having to travel for a census, the despair of finding no place to lie down when a baby is coming, the humility of being in the barn, and yet…
The joy of the angels, the determination of the magi, the curiosity of the shepherds, and the mother who kept all these things in her heart. It wasn’t as idyllic as our imaginings of the nativity scene may be, but it was as amazing an account as one could experience.
The news that set the world free arrived in a setting of uncertainty, discomfort, questions, pain, detachment, isolation … and joy.
How’s that Christmas looking? Well, Mary and Joseph and Jesus and Me and You are in this together. We recognize the difficulty and we know that joy exists beyond the hurt. In the mean time we will smile when we see God planting unexpected blessings throughout our experience. He is near. He is with us. Immanuel. Amen.
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”
—Henri J.M. Nouwen
Resources For Further Reading