By Matt B. Redmond
Is Christmas just for happy people? I think we have it backwards!
Excitement and expectation colour the season but there is no hiding the fact that Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and The Grinch's – ahem – problems with this season are no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.
For many, Christmas feels impossible to enjoy because it is clouded with the pain of heartbreak, loneliness and loss.
I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Manoeuvring through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce, or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.
But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their big flat-screen TV. We live and act as if these are the people who should be enjoying Christmas.
But this is backwards. Christmas – the great story of Jesus come in human form to rescue mankind from the consequences of rebellion – is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathise with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in His resurrection we can be made like Him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus' first recorded worshippers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labour. They had been looked down on over many a nose.
Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Jesus came for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream.
Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge.
Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him sporting gear when he wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence.
Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place.
Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune – they want "home" but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children's marriage fall into disarray.
Christmas is really about God's undeserved kindness for sinners: that Jesus opened the way for God's complete forgiveness and for eternal life with Him. Because of all that Jesus Christ did on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness.
In the irony of all ironies, the Christmas-time celebration of the coming of the Saviour of mankind is especially for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. Christmas really is for those who hate it most.
Matt B. Redmond lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and is the author of The God of the Mundane.