Advent has arrived. One week to go, three more to go. Christmas lights are on all over town! I hear Christmas songs playing on the radio, and temperatures close to winter are lower than they were this summer, for which most of us (especially in Arizona) are deeply grateful. Television commercials tell us to be happy 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 out and the decorations that people used on their landscapes. I love buying presents, smelling the scents of spices and evergreens in the air and the fact that a lot of people are kinder to each other. I even notice that customers are nicer, they often give way so that someone with only a couple or two items can pay in front of them.
Unfortunately, there are those for whom Christmas is neither a world, nor a party, nor a party. For them, it is a painstaking every day, a futile struggle to meet a face or decorate a house. This is a season more than the usual isolation, far from the fun and social opportunities that others enjoy. Some are depressed, unable to buy Christmas presents or special seasonal food. For them, they feel exhausted near others, trying to show joy when joy is away from them.
For some, it is a time of mourning for loved ones who are no longer with us because of death, illness, or distance. For others, battling mental health problems seems like they are in the sea overwhelmed by a storm without salvation in sight. For those who are sick, it is exhausting enough to move from chair to bed, and even less to decorate, cook, twist and do other typical holiday chores.
These people are often forgotten during holidays that include Advent and Christmas. Maybe the rest of us don’t think much about those around us who are suffering. We toss coins and bills into charity cauldrons, and put canned food and gifts in special boxes for the less fortunate. We take names from Giving Trees to ensure that infected children receive a Christmas present. Sometimes we visit rehab centers and nursing homes to sing songs and spend time with those who are locked up or alone and who need care. For us, it’s a busy season, but we’re doing it because it’s part of the tradition this time of year and we feel good that we’ve done it.
Some churches admit that this season can be much different from how most people feel. Churches deliberately attract those who grieve, feel lost, or are alone. The usual date for such services is the winter solstice, the “longest night” of the year. This year, that date comes on December 22.
Churches use these services for parishioners and foreigners to come together to remember, heal, and hope. Believers are encouraged to light candles for any memories they wish to honor. The lighting is soft and the atmosphere is quiet and peaceful. There are special prayers for service, offering empathy, comfort, strength, and inclusion for those most alone at this time of year. It is a wonderful and exciting experience.
When do you know who might have problems this year? Does your church offer such a service to the wider community? If so, who could you call? If not, is it something your church could offer?
Think of it this way. Isn’t this showing to those who need care the most exactly what Jesus told us to offer? Wasn’t that showing love of neighbor one of the basic teachings Jesus left us? Yes, we do things for others for Christmas, and yes, they show our love for our neighbors and our willingness to help them in their needs. This gift of service helps a peaceful group of people, who are rarely heard of or thought of in a difficult time in their lives.
It is amazing how a time of quiet thinking, offering memories, love and comfort can be exciting for lonely, hurt people, and even for healthy, happy people.
Blue Christmas is more than an old Elvis song. It is a living, living source of comfort and joy.
Image: Blue Christmas Light, Middleburg, Va. Author: AgnosticPreachersKid (2013). Found on Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a commentator for the group Education for the Ministry, an avid reader, a lover of baroque and renaissance music and a pensioner. She runs Jericho’s Daughter blog. He lives with his three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.