Advent has arrived. One Sunday down, three more to go. Christmas lights are going up all over town! I hear Christmas songs played on the radio, and the near-winter temperatures are lower than they were this summer, for which most of us (especially in Arizona) are profoundly grateful. Television commercials tell us to be merry and spend money. Even a few commercials offer a message of kindness.
I’ve always loved Christmas. I love the trees, the Christmas lights inside and outside, and the decorations people used on their landscapes. I love shopping for gifts, smelling scents of spices and evergreens in the air, and the fact that quite a large number of folks are more polite to each other. I even notice that shoppers are nicer, often making way so that someone with just an item or two can check-out ahead of them.
Unfortunately, there are those for whom Christmas is not holly, jolly, or fun. For them, it is a drudgery to get through each day, a futile struggle to put on a happy face or decorate the house. It’s a season of more than the usual isolation, away from parties and social occasions in which others revel. Some find themselves depressed, unable to buy Christmas gifts or special seasonal foods. To them, they feel exhausted being around others, attempting to portray joy when joy is far from them.
For some, it is a time of mourning for loved ones who are no longer with us through death, illness, or distance. For others, the struggle with mental health issues feels like being in a storm-tossed sea with no rescue in sight. It is exhausting enough for those who are ill to move from chair to bed, much less decorate, cook, wrap, and do other typical holiday tasks.
These people are frequently forgotten during the holidays that include both Advent and Christmas. Perhaps the rest of us don’t think much about those around us who are suffering. We drop coins and bills in charity kettles and put canned food and presents into special boxes for the less fortunate. We take names from Giving Trees to make sure deprived children receive a gift on Christmas. Sometimes we visit rehabilitation centers and nursing homes to sing carols and spend time with those who are shut-in or alone and in need of care. It makes for a busy season for us, but we do it because it’s part of the traditions of this time of year, and we feel good for having done it.
Some churches acknowledge that this season can be much different from how most people appear to feel. The churches deliberately draw in those who grieve, feel lost, or are alone. The usual date for such services is on the winter solstice, the “Longest Night” of the year. This year that date comes on December 22nd.
The churches use these services for parishioners and strangers alike to come together to remember, heal, and hope. Worshippers are encouraged to light candles for whatever remembrance they wish to honor. The lighting is soft, and the atmosphere is quiet and peaceful. There are special prayers for the service, offering empathy, comfort, strength, and inclusion for those who are most alone at this time of year. It is a beautiful and uplifting experience.
Who do you know who might be struggling this year? Is your church offering such a service to the wider community? If so, who could you invite? If not, is it something your church could offer?
Think of it like this. Isn’t this showing those who need the most care the very thing Jesus told us to offer? Isn’t this showing a love of neighbors that was one of the essential teachings Jesus left for us to do? Yes, we do things for others at Christmas, and yes, they show our love of neighbors and willingness to help with their needs. This gift of service helps a quiet group of people, seldom heard or thought of at a difficult time in their lives.
It’s amazing how uplifting a time of quiet reflection, an offer of remembrance, love, and comfort can be to the lonely, hurting people and even the healthy, happy folks as well.
Blue Christmas is more than an old song by Elvis. It is a live, living source of comfort and joy.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.