When Christmas Disappoints

by Aaron Tiger

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. For me and for many, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Between the family gatherings, the special worship services, the lights, the movies, the music, and the presents, who wouldn’t love this time of year?

Actually, quite a few people do not love this time of year. As some of you read this sentence, you read the words, “family gathering,” and you think, “not my family gathering.” Maybe your family gathering hasn’t been the same since Mom died, you got divorced, or since your family moved away. Some people’s family gatherings are not a Norman Rockwell picture and that alone may be reason to mourn. When some of you read “special worship services,” maybe you think, “I’m not ready to sing Joy to the World because there is no joy in my life.”

I would actually guess that most of us celebrate the holiday with a “if only.” “If only ______, then Christmas would be better.” For some people, we acknowledge that, but for a variety of reasons we have been able to move past it. For me, all of my grandparents have passed away. Every year I think, “If only they were here to see their great-grandkids, how special this would be.” Maybe yours is “If only it was my year to have the kids on Christmas.” “If only I had a better job this Christmas so I could better provide for my family.” Everyone’s “if only” is different, what is yours?

Christmas is celebrated in December, not because Christians believe it was the actual date of Jesus’ birth, but to make a theological point: In the darkness, light has come into the world. The original intent of Christmas was to bring light into the darkness, not just to make the light brighter. So if your “if only” is making your Christmas dark and gloomy instead of “merry and bright,” there is hope for you and there is a place for you. Marva Dawn said in The Unnecessary Pastor, “When people are in the depths of despair, Jesus does not say to them ‘You ought to get out of that pit.’ Nor does he say, ‘Here are ten easy steps for getting out of pits.’ What he does instead is jump into the pit with us.” This is what we celebrate with Advent and Christmas.

In the Psalms, there are what we call Psalms of Lament. These Psalms exist to help us name and grieve tragedies that exist and to appeal to God with hope and confidence that God hears our cries and will respond to them. Here is an example of a Psalm of Lament from Psalm 6.

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
    How long, Lord, how long?

Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
    save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
    Who praises you from the grave?

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
    they fail because of all my foes.

Away from me, all you who do evil,
    for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
    they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

If your “if only” doesn’t drench your couch with tears, but affects your ability to celebrate Christmas with others, we want you to have a space and a place to be able to properly grieve and receive hope during this Christmas season. At First United Methodist Church of Tulsa at 5:30 pm on December 23, we will host our first ever Blue Christmas Service. This service is for people who know that there is joy in the world but are not quite ready to sing “Joy to the World.” It is for people to name or reflect on their “if only.” It is for people to cry out to God and believe and know that God has heard your cry for mercy.

Other Blue Christmas (sometimes called Longest Night Service) in the area include:

Aaron Tiger is a minister at FUMC-Tulsa, a dad, a husband, and a child of God. He is the lead contributor for the918.org.

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