Christmas can be a magical time, especially when enjoying the season through the eyes of children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. However alongside the lights and festivities, the joy and wonder of this special time, many struggle with a sense of grief and loss.
Sometimes it’s not a pervasive gloom, but more a gnawing melancholy we can fight off by being consumed with all the busyness of the season. You may find yourself (or notice a friend or relative) drinking more than usual at holiday celebrations, dulling an aching pain you would rather avoid.
You don’t have to be an Ebenezer Scrooge to recognize that the expectations for an idealized Hallmark Card Christmas by the fireplace fail to match up to the complex realities, the uncertainty and fear that are part of many of our lives. If we can slow down the Holiday rush for a few minutes, we may discover something important in this great feast. Perhaps the deeper meaning of this Holiday does not require us to deny our grief and pain, but to come to see that this suffering is intimately connected to the Christmas story.
Much of the music and mythology of the holiday highlight an idealized and sanitized version of the Christmas story. But the accounts of the Annunciation and birth of Jesus in the Gospels reveal that God intimately enters human history with a man and woman who are struggling with confusion and fear… just like us.
We know the stories; we have heard them thousands of times. But focus in a special way on the initial response of Mary and Joseph as they learn of God’s invitation to embrace their very mysterious vocation:
The Angel Gabriel is well aware of Mary’s fear when his greets her.
“Do not be afraid Mary…”
And to Joseph:
“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife…”
Of course they were both confused and afraid. We think of the Christmas story in the context of cozy and warm family gatherings, with cookies baking in the oven. But in the real Christmas story, the lives of Mary and Joseph are in the process of being turned upside down! They will face even more anxiety, fear and uncertainty.
Joseph and Mary, and the life of their newborn child will be threatened with terror and death from a demonically inspired Herod. They face dangerous travel and exile from their hometowns for years to come. They surely were challenged in many ways that the stories do not recount. We know that while their faith in God would prove in time to be rock solid…no doubt that faith and trust in Him was forged in the fires of anxiety and fear. We can imagine that Joseph had other moments of doubt and confusion and would need to remember the Angel’s words of reassurance… “don’t be afraid, God is with you, keep moving ahead…trust in Him.”
We are not so different than Jesus and Mary. Fear, anxiety and depression can at times be part of our own Christmas story…and like Scrooge we may face scary ghosts of Christmas past haunting our sleep as the clock tolls midnight.
The focus on the Christ Child and the joy of children at Christmas may remind you (or someone you love) of an event in the past when you were overwhelmed with a fear and anxiety and tempted to see abortion as the only “choice.” We remember the loss of a son or daughter, grandchild, or a brother or sister who will never share in the wonder of the Holiday. This can be very much a conscious awareness. However for many this loss is frozen deep under the waters of denial. The Holiday themes trigger those feelings and memories of that lost child, which can be expressed in depression, melancholy and a hunger to remain distracted and busy in the hustle and bustle of the season.
Perhaps this was a child that you longed for in the recesses of your heart, but your partner insisted that abortion was the only rational solution. Like the Holy Family you felt powerless and afraid. You grieve that there was no Saint Joseph in your life to save the child from the modern day Herods of Planned Parenthood. Maybe you’re a man grieving that you failed to be more like Saint Joseph to that vulnerable woman facing an unplanned pregnancy.
Christmas can be a time when we are acutely aware of the loss of a beloved relative, remember joy-filled memories that have faded…or perhaps painful experiences of family dysfunction which are often magnified at the Holidays. We may be facing the anxiety of health concerns, economic and employment uncertainty, or the breakdown of a marriage.
The Cross Above the Manger
The presence of suffering, death, fear and anxiety need not be denied and suppressed in order to protect some sanitized, idealized Christmas season. If we can learn the intimate connection between the incarnation and birth of our Savior and his suffering on the cross, we may discover in our own suffering the true joy and hope of this holiday.
The Gospels…indicate that the Cross above the Manger is more than a mere decoration…The birth and death of Jesus Christ, the Manger and the Cross, belong together indissolubly. God became man in order to die for us as man. God was born in Bethlehem in order to be able to lay down his life on Golgotha out of love for men! Thus the Manger and the Cross form a union. Both the Manger and the Cross are for us the revelation of God’s love.
When our lives are turned upside down by the tsunamis of upheaval and suffering that come unexpectedly and without warning, we can turn to a God that is intimately connected with the suffering of his people. We can come to a deeper understanding of that powerful and precious title of our savior and God born into the anxiety and violence faced by many poor families, and a baby Jesus who would end his life being tortured to death on a cross.
This child’s title is Emanuel – God with Us.
Loneliness and isolation in times of suffering and temptation can blind us to an essential truth of our faith; God is with us in our suffering…intimately present to us in Spirit and in the hearts of those who reach out to us in love.
During the Holidays give the gift to a friend or relative (or to yourself!) of providing an opportunity to share what it is truly on their heart and soul this Christmas season. Acknowledge that while this is a time of joy, you know that they may also be suffering from the loss of a loved one, financial anxieties, and if they have confided in you, a previous abortion. Allow them to share their feelings and memories. If they are in need of deeper healing of a loss like abortion, share with them the good news that this is a perfect time of year to bring this suffering to the Lord, and attend a program for spiritual and emotional healing after abortion in the New Year.
This is the Reason for the Season!
May we draw strength in the year ahead from the courage and faith of the Holy Family. Joseph and Mary, though struggling with with fear and anxiety, gave birth to the mission of their Son.
For those healed of abortion loss, like Scrooge on Christmas morning they learn that despair and death do not have the last word!
They discover in recovery from this wound their own special mission. They respond to a calling to proclaim the truth of their abortion loss and the good news of healing to a Nation and world that desperately needs to hear their message in the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
Jesus has promised us that in time he will transform all our suffering, into the joy and hope of resurrection to eternal life.
When in the darkness and loneliness of suffering this can seem a very distant hope.
I pray that these words of Christ will fill you with peace and joy…that whatever you are facing, and will face in the days ahead, you can trust that He is indeed Emanuel and is close to you in your suffering, and will transform the darkest shadows of your life with the blinding light of His Glorious Resurrection:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.” The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.” Rev: 21